The Anonymous Widower

We Shouldn’t live Near Petrochemical Plants

In my three years at ICI in the late 1960s, I went over several chemical plants. I have heard so many stories about how supposedly safe plants have exploded killing numbers of people.

On one plant, I heard a tale of an instrument being installed to analyse the gases in a burner.  The instrument found that the gases were in such a composition that they might explode.  The plant manager immediately shut the plant down and they worked out a strategy to run the plant in a safe manner. They informed the European chemical company from whom they had licensed the design of the plant of what they had found and were politely told that it wasn’t possible to build an instrument that could measure the composition of the gases. A few months later, the European company’s plant buried itself in a hillside.

And then there was the Flixborough disaster in 1974.  I had left ICI by that date, but I was in contact with some of my former colleagues and also some other chemical engineers.  From somewhere I heard the rumour that one of the problems at Flixborough was that the plant had originally been designed in metric units and then to build it, these had been converted to Imperial. So when they bypassed a reactor, they got the calculations wrong.

Remember that ICI went fully metric in about 1955 for chemical plant design.  Safety was one of the reasons they stated!

Now these all go to show, that no matter how careful you are, mistakes will get made.  Mistakes you can’t afford to make, when dealing with dangerous chemicals.

Therefore every chemical or petrochemical plant should be assessed for danger and an appropriate exclusion zone declared around it, where no houses, offices or other dangerous plants are allowed.

It would appear that in the latest explosion in Texas, that there were houses too near to the plant that exploded.

April 18, 2013 - Posted by | Business, News, World | ,


  1. It appears that this Plant did not have DEEP BUND WALLS [up to 10 meters deep in extreme cases – like in WW2 Explosives Plants] to direct Explosion of these Tanks Upwards [not Outwards] . . .

    In OZ Petro Chemical / Oil Training for Engineers / Operations ensures that many old designs are Retro-fitted with Upgraded Safety / Protection.

    Comment by Steam Lover | April 18, 2013 | Reply

    • You’ve got to have proven separation in some way. at our explosion at Buncefield a few years ago, the company got very lucky, as it was a weekend.But you can’t rely on luck for protection.

      By proven separation, I mean something physical that is known to work.

      Comment by AnonW | April 18, 2013 | Reply

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