Scary, and very lethal . . .


Last weekend, a container holding 25 tons of chlorine gas was being shipped from Aqaba in Jordan to Djibouti when it fell from a crane to the deck of a ship during loading.

The body count is up to 12, last I heard, with hundreds more injured by the gas and in the chaos that resulted from its release.

This video is particularly scary when one recalls that tanker trucks and rail trucks containing chlorine gas are routinely encountered across America.  One accident in the wrong place – say, a railway shunting yard in the middle of a big city, or one of the transcontinental rail routes such as that running directly through the middle of our home town – and we could see a repeat of this accident.  In a densely-populated area, who knows how many would be killed or injured?

We can’t ban the transport of such goods through residential areas – that would be logistically impossible – but we need our urban authorities to carefully consider ways in which their transport could be made safer than it is.  Just watch that video again, and realize that anyone caught in that yellow cloud almost certainly didn’t make it out – or, if they did, their lungs will probably be permanently damaged and their lifespans drastically shortened.

Scary indeed . . .



  1. Actually in many places hazardous cargo routes *around* residential areas exist, so yes we can keep them out of high density population areas. That doesn't help the workers handling these chemicals but at least here in the USA they should be trained for such hazards. Our standards of care in handling, not to mention response to an accident, should be much better than most of ht emiddle east, for example!

  2. CDH is correct. The problem is the drivers that 'sneak through' on the shortest route! As a VFD, those scared us worse than tanker truck fires…

  3. I agree with Old NFO – fire is easy (for firefighter values of easy), HAZMAT has a much higher SUCK factor!

    Not sure that I agree with the premise that we need our urban authorities…to make things safer. Things usually work as designed, the number of hazmat incidents to miles travelled is a very low percentage and we're typically very safe.

    That said – accidents DO happen – and I for one, don't want to live in an environment where "the authorities" are charged with keeping me safe. We've known for a long time how that plays out.

  4. Sometime in the 1970s, an ammonia tanker truck in Houston tried to merge onto 59 from 610. This interchange was known as the "spaghetti bowl" because it was so complex. Well, he was going too fast, didn't quite make the turn, crashed through the guardrail, smashed into a support column, and ruptured the tank. Several drivers, not knowing what they were driving into, suffocated in the cloud of invisible ammonia gas.

  5. Worked nine years in a chlor-alkali plant. We made a few thousand tons of the stuff a day. Small leaks were the order of the day working in one of the production units. An invisible whiff would realign one's priorities. We had various levels of respiratory protection up to supplied air masks. I used one of those one night to enter a visible cloud escaping a blown gasket. I came out with my clothing bleached out.

  6. The video itself is pretty low-res but while I would agree that preparedness and caution is called for, I'm also going to play pin the tail on the 3rd world donkey here. I'm never a fan of loading containers off of a stevedoring crane anyhow, but when this is necessary, a Bromma spreader is absolutely required to avoid point-loading the welds on the tank frame… and there's no God damned Bromma spreader here, (edit in my shock face here), but instead the genius brigade put what looks like two cable slings rigged U-fashion.
    There are other pictures, less dramatic, that show the remnants of the parted cable slings still on the hook of the crane. This tells me that there was no lifting ring used to unite the cable slings at the ring to equalize the load either.
    So, yeah, this was a shit show from the start, with tragic results. I'm not going to Monday Morning Quarterback it further than this, because who knows the pressures and practices that could have led to this. It does make me (insert shocked face here) value OSHA. But only slightly.

  7. Go to any water purification plant and look at the mask cabinets everywhere and find a plan of the installation. That DZ that is shown around the facility is the Dead Zone, where no matter what, if you're in that zone, you're dead if there's a leak.

    Yeah, no.

    As to rail transport, in the last 10 years all hazmat tankers have been upgraded with a thicker outer hull and more bracing, which makes them harder to crack open.

  8. Inshallah maintenance, Inshallah training, and getting the job because your uncle is a big shot.

    How to trigger a chemical weapon release in three easy lessons.

  9. I encountered a small chlorine leak when installing a new bottle of chlorine at a water treatment plant back in the late 70s. I got a slight whiff before I could exit and access a mask. No, they weren't very OSHA compliant there. I closed my eyes and exhaled, then I held my breath until I distanced myself outside upwind. After donning a mask, I re-entered and shut off the tank valve, then I replaced the defective lead washer and reconnected to the tank.

    Even with the minimal exposure, I could tell a difference in my lungs. For years they were very easily irritated.

    I suspect the death toll will rise for a while from complication related to the exposure.

  10. I suppose the one bright spot is that elemental chlorine, being as reactive as it is, doesn't endure in the ambient area as long as some other chemical hazards would. Of course, it will take longer for 25 tons to react away than would smaller quantities, and the local atmospheric chemistry will be fun times while it does so.

  11. In EMS we had a saying that "the most dangerous vehicle on the road is a Wal-Mart semi truck".

    In that truck, you can find: Up to 999 gallons of chlorine bleach, 999 gallons of ammonia, 1000 cans of camp stove fuel, and a case of blue tip matches. I'll leave the results of that to the reader's imagination.

    DOT HazMat rules used to only come in to play when a vehicle carries more than 1000 gallons of a hazardous material (I'll grant that this may have changed in the last 20 years.)

  12. When I was active in Rogers County Emergency Management, we had a lot of drills involving rail road tanker cars of anhydrous ammonia for the fertilizer plant. We virtually 'killed' a lot of first responders in those drills.

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