Hazardous Materials Accident Report

Hazardous Materials Release From Railroad Tank Car With
Subsequent Fire at Riverview
Michigan, July 14, 2001

NTSB Number HZM-02/01
NTIS Number PB2002-917002

Executive Summary: About 3:45 a.m., eastern daylight time, on July 14, 2001, at the ATOFINA Chemicals, Inc., (ATOFINA) plant in Riverview, Michigan, a pipe attached to a fitting on the unloading line of a railroad tank car fractured and separated, causing the release of methyl mercaptan, a poisonous and flammable gas. About 4:09 a.m., shortly after the Riverview Fire Department chief arrived on scene, the methyl mercaptan ignited, engulfing the tank car in flames and sending a fireball about 200 feet into the air. Fire damage to cargo transfer hoses on an adjacent tank car resulted in the release of chlorine, a poisonous gas that is also an oxidizer. The fire was extinguished about 9:30 a.m. Three plant employees were killed in the accident. There were several other injuries; most of the injured were treated for respiratory symptoms and released. About 2,000 residents were evacuated from their homes for about 10 hours. Two tank cars, railroad track, and plant equipment (including hoses and fittings) were damaged in the fire.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident involving the release of methyl mercaptan from a tank car at the ATOFINA Chemicals, Inc., plant in Riverview, Michigan, was a fractured cargo transfer pipe that resulted from (1) the failure of ATOFINA to adequately inspect and maintain its cargo transfer equipment, and (2) inadequate Federal oversight of unloading operations involving hazardous materials. Contributing to the accident were ATOFINA’s reliance on a tank car excess flow valve to close in the event of a leak from cargo transfer equipment and the company’s failure to require appropriate safety equipment for employees involved in tank car loading and unloading operations.

As a result of its investigation of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board identified the following safety issues:

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board makes safety recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.