The East Palestine Derailment
Like many other process safety professionals, I have been reading about the derailment of the Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio. (The event occurred on February 3rd, 2023). Also, like many other professionals, I have learned about the dangers of jumping to conclusions — particularly with events such as this which have such a high public profile.
So, let’s look at some of the facts and see if we can learn any lessons we can learn at this early stage.
According to an early NPR report, about 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed. That report stated that five of the cars contained vinyl chloride. (I do not have information as to what chemicals were in the other five cars.)
The New York Times states that the train was carrying 116,000 gallons (440 cubic meters) of vinyl chloride. A DOT-111 tank car has a capacity of 34,500 gallons. The vinyl chloride cars may have a reduced volumetric capacity because the chemical is stored under pressure. Therefore, the statement that five of the cars were carrying vinyl chloride aligns with the initial report.
Safety Data Sheet — Vinyl Chloride
Vinyl chloride is a widely used chemical. Consequently, many companies issue Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for it. I read through the SDS issued by Oxy.
Some of my initial observations to do with the chemical from this reading are:
Boiling Point: -14C / 9F
Normal State: Compressed, liquefied gas
Evaporation Rate (ether = 1): >15
Lower and Upper Flammability Limits (air): 3.6% , 33.0%
Autoignition Temperature: 472C
Possibility of Hazardous Reactions: Avoid air and sunlight. Avoid heat, flames, sparks and other sources of ignition. Containers may rupture or explode if exposed to heat,
Hazardous Decomposition Products: oxides of carbon, chlorine, hydrogen chloride, phosgene.
Canadian guidelines say that it is slightly soluble in water.
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