HazMat in Action!
As you may have heard, a major hazmat incident occurred in Niagara Falls, not far from ICC Compliance Center’s location. On a late Monday night in October, a tanker truck carrying nearly 13,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen (UN1966) hit the base of a light pole in the parking lot of a local grocery store as the driver was attempting to turn around. This resulted in a valve on the truck to become damaged and could have caused the highly flammable liquid hydrogen to be released from the truck triggering a very serious situation for nearby residents and businesses. Although the driver received a traffic violation, nobody was physically harmed by the incident. Watching this news story unfold made me think about how this incident could have turned out much differently if hazmat protocol wasn’t followed.
As the tanker truck crashed into the pole, local officials on hand realized the dangers of what was inside the truck because it was properly placarded with a UN1966 placard. Had the truck not been placarded correctly, officials would not have known what was inside the truck and what dangers could come from exposure to the highly flammable liquid hydrogen. As a result, officials were able to respond quickly and evacuated all local businesses and roads leading to the grocery store parking lot the accident took place in. Officials went door to door to local residents recommending that they seek shelter. The main goal was to not only keep everyone in nearby houses and businesses informed of the incident and safe, but to also stop any potential leaking. Liquid hydrogen has been known to vaporize when exposed to air and is highly flammable.
Cleanup & Removal
At this point, crews needed to utilize the handy dandy Emergency Response Guide (ERG). If you look up UN1966 in the ERG, it will lead you to Guide 115 on how to handle spills, leaks, fires, and first aid for Hydrogen, refrigerated liquids. The goals of the hazmat response team were to stop the leaking, cleanup any spill, and to transport the remaining liquid hydrogen into another truck for safe removal from the area. The greatest concern of the hazmat crews was that friction from the metal tanker on the metal light pole could cause a spark that could ignite the hydrogen.
ERG Guide No. 115 states the following during a spill or a leak of liquid hydrogen:
- ELIMINATE all ignition sources (no smoking, flares, sparks or flames in immediate area).
- All equipment used when handling the product must be grounded.
- Do not touch or walk through spilled material.
- Stop leak if you can do it without risk.
- If possible, turn leaking containers so that gas escapes rather than liquid.
- Use water spray to reduce vapors or divert vapor cloud drift. Avoid allowing water runoff to contact spilled material.
- Do not direct water at spill or source of leak.
- Prevent spreading of vapors through sewers, ventilation systems, and confined areas.
- Isolate area until gas has dispersed.
CAUTION: When in contact with refrigerated/cryogenic liquids, many materials become brittle and are likely to break without warning.
As experts from both the U.S. and Canada arrived to investigate the accident and help determine the safest way to handle the incident, officials eventually were able to off-load the liquid hydrogen from the damaged tanker truck to another tanker and remove it from the area. The whole incident lasted about 20 hours and resulted in no explosions, no injuries, and no damage to any nearby houses or businesses. All’s well that ends well, but I still wonder how much different this could have been if it wasn’t for placarding, the Emergency Response Guidebook, and for officials that were properly trained to handle a hazmat incident. This is one of those circumstances that as a dangerous goods professional I can say … the system works!