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What Causes a Chemical Plant Explosion?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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One really effective way to cause a chemical plant explosion is to blow up a chemical plant with explosive ordinance, but this is one of the least common causes for chemical plant explosions. Most explosions are accidents which can be caused by a variety of factors including negligence, a poor understanding of safety protocols, or freak occurrences. Because accidents and explosions at facilities which process chemicals can pose a serious threat to human health and safety, many nations have strict laws in place which are designed to decrease the risk of explosions.

A simple fire can cause a chemical plant explosion by acting as a catalyst for a chemical reaction if flammable chemicals are present. Sometimes, lightning strikes have resulted in a chemical plant explosion, but sources of fire can include improperly maintained boilers, cigarette smoking in a chemical facility, and malfunctions of electrical equipment which lead to the development of a spark which causes an explosion.

A runaway chemical reaction resulting in a chemical plant explosion can be caused by any number of things. Some particularly grievous chemical plant explosions in history have been the result of poor maintenance. If a chemical plant is not maintained properly, situations like leaks of dangerous chemicals can occur, creating a situation which may facilitate a chemical plant explosion; if, for example, an explosive gas is released in a hazardous area.

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Using impure chemicals can also be an explosion risk. If a chemical plant's sources are not impeccable or researchers are studying unknown chemicals to learn more about them, the unknown qualities of the chemicals could prove explosive. Another cause of a chemical plant explosion can be negligence or lack of education on the part of an employee; an employee could create hazardous conditions in the course of his or her work.

Using hazardous chemicals also increases the risk of a chemical plant explosion. Facilities which handle particularly volatile chemicals are often heavily regulated to prevent issues such as the accidental release of poisonous gases, explosions, and other safety threats. The placement of a chemical plant is also an important consideration, with dangerous facilities being located well away from residential areas and dense downtown districts.

Chemical plant design is specifically intended to limit the risk of explosions and to contain explosions and other hazardous reactions when they do occur. However, design also relies on routine maintenance, and on the use of a properly trained workforce. A failure on any three points of the design-maintenance-workforce triangle can dramatically increase the risk of serious incidents, including explosions.

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KoiwiGal
Post 3

@irontoenail - The problem then is that everyone has the same "not in my backyard" reaction, so where do you put the plant?

It's got to go into someone's "backyard" after all. You're probably more than willing to enjoy the products made with the chemicals produced by the plants. Unfortunately, that does come with a bit of danger.

Not very much danger though, when you think about how many plants there must be in the entire world and how few explosions you hear about in the news.

irontoenail
Post 2

@pastanaga - Well, they are and they aren't. The problem is when someone decides that it's cheaper to be sued than to install the safety gear in the first place.

It's like that really cynical line where someone says that car manufacturers who find a fault in the car will calculate whether the number of accidents will be more expensive than a full recall of the car, and if they aren't, then they don't bother doing it.

I don't know if that's true or not but it certainly wouldn't surprise me, and the same kinds of people are building and maintaining chemical plants.

Frankly, I would rather not have one in my neighborhood if at all possible and I certainly wouldn't work at one.

pastanaga
Post 1

I don't think chemical plant explosions are nearly as common as they used to be.

Every time one happened in the past, people would get angry that more safety procedures weren't used and would protest and change the way things were done.

And so, all the people who lost their lives to chemical explosions of this sort have made it safer and safer for the people who work and live around chemical plants today.

Of course, it's entirely possible that it could still happen. You can't design a perfect system, after all. But I think, for the most part, chemical plants are fairly safe.

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