December 8, 2008 | Ken Reed

CSB Investigates Catastrophic Fertilizer Tank Collapse

The Chemical Safety Board has issued urgent safety recommendations following the collapse of a 2 million gallon fertilizer storage tank in Chesapeake, VA last month.  The tank released liquefied fertilizer into a residential community and into the Chesapeake River.

Link to news release

The tank had been recently repaired and updated, replacing an old riveted design with welded seams.  Flaws in these welds have been determined to have lead to the failure of the tank.  The welds and tanks had been inspected and certified by a nationally-recognized tank engineering firm.

It is early in the investigation, so root causes have not yet been assigned.  However, there are many questions still outstanding:
– What is required to re-certify a non-petroleum storage tank?
– What was inspected during the re-certification?
– Why was the leakage not captured by the containment berms?
– What caused the welding flaws, and why weren’t they identified?

3 other tanks had similar repairs, and immediate attention is now being applied to those tanks to put them in a safe condition.

This looks like a great opportunity to apply Safeguards Analysis.  It would have been nice of this had been done proactively (before a root cause analysis became necessary), but even a reactive analysis can be used to determine:

– What Safeguards were in place, but failed?
– What Safeguards were in place, and worked as intended?
– What new Safeguards could be put in place, either as completely new preventive measures or as a method of strengthening the existing Safeguards.

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