Cincinnati liquid nitrogen storage tank ruptures; spills 565,000 gallons of non-toxic fertilizer into Ohio River : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

CINCINNATI (AP) January 8, 2000 -- A storage tank holding liquid nitrogen ruptured Saturday afternoon with much of the 365,000 gallons of non-toxic farm fertilizer spilling into the Ohio River, authorities said ...

So far, we have no idea what happened, Mrs. Mangeot said. We've been here 35 years and nothing like this has ever happened.

I'd be more concerned with why it blew, Mr. Zorb said. There are so many relief valves and safety systems.

May or may not be Y2K related. They can't get close enough to determine cause.

-- Cheryl (, January 09, 2000


That bottled water might still come in handy...

-- Ed Yourdon (, January 09, 2000.

Thanks, Cheryl! Another "unusual" incident to track to see if it might qualify for further Y2K investigation.

-- appreciative reader (behind@the.scenes), January 09, 2000.

WHOOPS! 365,000 gallons - not 565,000 gallons

-- Cheryl (, January 09, 2000.

Hey Cheryl;

"WHOOPS! 365,000 gallons - not 565,000 gallons"

What's a couple hundred gallons of fertilizer in your drinking water? (Grin)

-- just glad I don't live downstream from all that sh**

-- Beached Whale (, January 09, 2000.

gads..... couple hundred "thousand" gallons, not just couple hundred gallons...

oh, for a spell-checker! or at least a brain-checker!

-- Beached Whale (, January 09, 2000.

good going cheryl!! but you know what...this is tragic. there have been so many spills into waterways in the last week and i am sure there are more we haven't heard about, what is going to happen long term from all this? unreal.

and people say there are no problems. sounds sort of like when the guy came to treat my house for termites. they pump pounds and pounds of this chemical into the foundation. i asked him to tell me about its toxicity. he said, "oh, don't worry, it won't hurt you, you can't even see it." DUH. my son developed asthma for the first time in his life and my other son and i developed chronic sinusitis. plus who knows what else. (sure, let me say it before THEY do, mental illness).

-- tt (, January 09, 2000.

Is that really liquid nitrogen, or some form on nitrate fertilizer?

No farmer in his right mind would use liquid nitrogen as a fertilizer, unless they want the freshest frozen peas in the world...

-- Matthew (, January 09, 2000.



About 365,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen  a farm fertilizer  spilled from a ruptured tank in Riverside on Saturday afternoon, with much of the non-toxic liquid spilling into the Ohio River.

Saturday night, firefighters said clean-up of the spill was halted as investigators checked damage to a nearby tank that did not rupture, but which held about 1 million gallons of naphtha, a petroleum distillate that can be highly flammable.

They said a cause for the catastrophic tank failure couldn't be determined, because investigators can't get close to the site until the naphtha tank and two others are off-loaded and liquid nitrogen that spilled onto the ground around the tanks is cleaned up sometime today.

We can't get in and look around, Assistant Cincinnati Fire Chief Gary Auffart said late Saturday. The real issue is getting the product off-loaded. A barge is on its way here now.

Residents near the Southside River Rail terminal on River Road at Idaho Street heard what sounded like an explosion about 1 p.m. that shook nearby houses and sent a gusher of liquid nitrogen shooting into the air.

Jeff Farnsley was in his house directly across River Road when he heard an explosion and felt the house shake momentarily, just like an earthquake.

I was inside, but my mom was outside and she saw something shoot up in the air, Mr. Farnsley said. It was a pretty nasty jolt. It got my attention.

Despite the reports of an explosion, Mr. Auffart said, the noise probably came from a blown power transformer. He said that when the tank ruptured, it brought down power lines and took out a transformer. That might have sounded like a blast, he said.

There's no evidence of an explosion, he said.

Firefighters said the the rupture of the tank let loose a wave of liquid, which pushed two trucks into the river, breaking the cord that had moored a barge near Southside River Rail. The barge floated down the Ohio River about a mile before it was hauled in by the U.S. Coast Guard at the guard's River Road station.

No one was injured in the incident, and police and fire officials did not have to evacuate the area.

Mr. Auffart said investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency are looking into the history of the tank, which he said was about eight years old. He said they will examine the storage permits and inspection records.

Mr Auffart said the fire department does not monitor tanks as part of fire inspections.

Liquid nitrogen is not classified as a hazardous material and poses no danger, said Bud Zorb of the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Unit

Only about 35 percent of the tank was liquid nitrogen, the rest was water, Mr. Auffart said.

It was an aqueous solution, he said. It's basically not much different than the stuff that trucks spray on your lawn. ... except for a slight odor, you wouldn't even notice it.

Fortunately, there was no one around when it happened and there was no hazardous-materials threat, said Jody Mangeot, vice president of Southside River Rail and the adjacent Lindsey Motor Express.

If the tank rupture had taken place on a weekday, she said, there would be workers all over the area. We're fortunate it happened when no one was around.

Mrs. Mangeot said Southside River Rail is a company that stores materials for other companies that are transported from Riverside by barge and by truck.

So far, we have no idea what happened, Mrs. Mangeot said. We've been here 35 years and nothing like this has ever happened.

Mrs. Mangeot said there were 365,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen in the tank, which amounts to about 2.5 million pounds, but Saturday evening officials were not sure how much of it had reached the river.

A half dozen Cincinnati Fire Division trucks responded to the tank rupture, along with a team trained in dealing with hazardous materials spills. At first, Cincinnati fire officials were not sure what kind of materials were stored in the ruptured tank, but when it became clear the spill did not involve toxic chemicals, most of the firefighters had left the scene by mid-afternoon.

Shortly before 4 p.m., a boat and truck with river clean-up materials from Clean Harbors Environmental Services rolled onto the Southside Rail Service property to begin working to clean up the spill.

Saturday night, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Kroeger said firefighters brought in an engineering survey team to make sure the damaged tank with the naphtha was structurally safe. Fire division investigators remained on the scene, trying to determine the cause of the rupture, which firefighters described as a collapse.


BY ROBERT ANGLEN - The Cincinnati Enquirer

The director of the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Unit said Saturday's chemical tank rupture could have been much worse, given some of the dangerous materials stored along the Ohio River.

It could have been flammable hydrocarbons, such as gasoline and oil.

It could have been a gas, such as hydrogen chloride or hydrogen bromide, that turns to acid when dissolved in water.

Or it could have been a vola tile chemical used in manufacturing.

But it was liquid nitrogen, which dissipates almost as soon as it hits the atmosphere.

That's not even classified as a hazardous material, said Bud Zorb, one of the region's top hazardous materials officials.

Assistant Cincinnati Fire Chief Gary Auffart said the solution was only about 35 percent liquid nitrogen and 65 percent water: A fertilizer solution not much different than the kind sprayed on yards.

That made it even less dangerous than pure liquid nitrogen, which is stored at about -300 degrees and expands to about 400 times its volume once it is exposed to air, Mr. Zorb said. While some spilled into the river and might have turned into little chunks, he said, most would have evaporated.

I'd be more concerned with why it blew, Mr. Zorb said. There are so many relief valves and safety systems.

He said liquid nitrogen is used as a fertilizer, an aerosol propellent, or a packaging material that gives potato-chip bags that balloon-like feel.

At Southside River Rail, where the tank ruptured, it was stored for transportation and eventual use for fertilizer, company officials said.

Within hours of the thunderous rupture, which decimated a storage tank and ripped a barge from its moorings, sending it downriver, emergency crews were preparing to clean up the site.

But other riverfront chemical incidents have not been so quickly dispelled.

In 1996, an explosion in a nearly empty chemical tank forced a traffic shutdown and evacuation of homes and businesses in Riverside for a half-mile along the Ohio River.

The blast punched four large holes in the top of a 300,000-gallon chemical tank about 100 feet from the river at the Ashland Petroleum plant. It happened while workers were pumping toluene  a colorless, flammable liquid found in gasoline and used as a solvent in adhesives, paints and other products  from a rail car into the empty tank.

In 1994, an explosion at the same plant involving a tanker truck killed one person.

-- (, January 09, 2000.

Very interesting, Cheryl; thankfully it appears no one was injured. This appears to be an appropriate time to introduce and adapt some new terminology into the overall post-rollover Y2K discussions -- two terms current in studies of agricultural pollution (e.g., overfertilization of lands resulting in pollution of groundwater and waterways; escape of animal waste from large breeding farm containment facilities; and so on).

"Source-point" (direct) and "nonsource-point" (indirect) Y2K induced anomalies, or effects. For instance, if the nitrogen facility blew as a direct result of Y2K-related code or PLC failure, it would be a "source-point" failure. If it blew because of a Y2K-induced power surge generated at a utility, which surge knocked out the nitrogen facility's safety mechanisms, it would be a "nonsource- point" failure.

-- HarborGuy (HarborGuy@OnThe.Waterfront), January 09, 2000.

Here's another explosion I find interesting - the one at the Ford Plant in Dearborn MI:

A vessel of moltensteel exploded at the Rouge Steel Co., destroying part of a roof, sparking small fires and causing minor injuries .... The cause of the explosion has not been determined, according to Dearborn fire battalion chief Ken Kajkowski. The chief said the molten steel exploded when oxygen was being injected into the vessel.


Rouge's Engineering department has coordinated the plant-floor equipment and process issues. Live Year-2000 production or simulation tests have been successfully conducted on all manufacturing facilities ... Meetings were conducted with our most critical steel processors and all of our processors have indicated that they will be Year-2000 ready. We also have met with and received assurances from our critical infrastructure providers for electricity, natural gas, and oxygen that they will be Year-2000 ready.


LOL - Maybe I'm reading too much into some of this stuff??

-- Cheryl (, January 09, 2000.

I deal with agricultural pollution issues in my work. "Point Source" (requiring a NPDES permit) is pollution that is discharged from a discreet source like the end of a pipe or a drainage ditch. (e.g. one can easily trace the activity responsible from the point of delivery to the point of source.)

"Non-point Source" pollution is that which is delivered through precipitation run-off. It may not have one single identifiable source and it may be effected by natural filtration processes.

Example: Mercury occurrs naturally in our area. It was also used in the distant past in mining for gold. If they have mercury detected in a particular area of a river, they first look to discreet sources like old mining tailings deposits or ponds.

Our area is heavily influenced by lightning, which creates nitrogen. We might be able to trace the probable source of high nitrogen in a river to leaky municipal sewage ponds or storm water run-off because our cities are small and the discharge occurs through a pipe or between point A-point B on the river. However, it is difficult to separate "naturally occurring" nitrogen from agricultural contributions that run-off and are filtered along hundreds of miles of river.

Point-source pollution is "permitted" - or an activity allowed only under strict regulation that minimizes the pollution and remediates its effects. Non-point source pollution is not "permitted" because by the nature of the pollution, one cannot pinpoint the source.

The approach to minimize non-point source pollution has been the employment of "best management practices" (BMPs.) This is sort of "acting as if" by trying to minimize effects at possible sources. This is a difficult approach because our laws usually require a person to be found guilty of an action that can be proven to have been injurious to human health, safety, peace or property. NPSP laws simply convict on guilt or innocence of performance of the action without necessity of proving any actual injury or damage resulting from the action.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Sometimes, agriculture must go through agonizing contortions to adopt best management practices, only to find that it makes no dent in the problem because the source is something else. [Ag is poor so it makes an easy target.]

Another approach is TMDLs or Total Maximum Daily Loads. In our area, levels of certain "pollutants" decided to be injurious to fish life cycles, (not human health or safety,) such as dissolved oxygen, temperature and sediment have been established at pre-human activity levels. Regulations will now be imposed through BMPs to require no human contribution above those levels.

EDITORIAL NOTE: It is sort of like nationalizing all your farms, ranches, timberlands, mines. The "owner" just works there and pays the taxes while the government makes the management decisions.

-- marsh (, January 09, 2000.

Marsh: Very good, and you are correct, it is "point source" and "non-point source" (I had them reversed, duh).

-- Harbor Guy (HarborGuy@OnThe.Waterfront), January 09, 2000.

Some of the details regarding the contents of the tank seem odd. Liquid nitrogen is quite cold, like -321 F, or -196 C, or 77 K if you prefer. If liquid nitrogen were mixed with water in the tank, that water would quickly freeze.

Also, while many fertilizers include nitrogen, nitrogen itself is not a fertilizer. About 80% of the air that we breath is nitrogen.

Perhaps the tank contained some compound of nitrogen dissolved in water, but I don't believe you can attain a 35 per cent solution of N2 in liquid H2O at any temperature.


P.S. Marsh, lightning may result in some oxide of nitrogen, but the nitrogen was already present in the atmosphere. About 80 per cent of the atmosphere is nitrogen.

-- Jerry B (, January 09, 2000.

This reporter is obviously technologically challenged. 35% liquid nitrogen and 65% water. A fertilizer. What nonsense!

Best wishes,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, January 09, 2000.

Perhaps a little glitch in the system that controls the internal pressure of the tank? Hmmmm... oh that's right I forgot, shame on me!! How "irresponsible" to even consider such a thing! Must have been those pesky squirrels again.

Interesting that they say it is "non-toxic," yet they are afraid to go any closer until it is cleaned up.

-- Hawk (flyin@high.again), January 09, 2000.


Re: Oxygen steelmaking

I have 25 yrs experience working in the steel industry.

The type of accident reported at Rouge is not likely a Y2K incident. At least not a oxygen control incident.

This type of failure has occurred at other plants (on a very infrequent basis).

The Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) is a vessel that holds about 290 tons of molten metal which contains carbon disolved in the liquid iron. Oxygen is blown at super mach speed via a lance centered in the vessel. The lance goes up and down to adjust the height. The lance is water cooled at the tip to withstand the temperatures in excess of 3000 Fahrenheit. The lance moves up and out of the vessel to allow the vessel to rotate and tap out the steel.

The usual type of failure occurs when the lance control allows the lance height to submerge in the bath resulting in immediate conversion of the water into steam in an uncontrolled explosion. This is potentially catastrophic to any wokers in the immediate area as liquid steel can be thrown out of the vessel.

Another type of similar event could occur with wet scrap metal or sealed scrap object like skock absorbers, flame extinguishers etc charged into the vessel prior to blowing the oxygen. This type of scrap explosion would not likely be as big an incident.

So long story short, I suspect lance control failure.

I have very good friends at Rouge if I learn more I will post here.

-- Bill P (, January 09, 2000.

"not toxic"? to who? Why put in a blatantly peculiar comment like that? What's they call that in my "philosophy of logic" class? Oh "Straw Man", to keep the focus off the real issue?heh

-- Hokie (, January 09, 2000.

So long story short, I suspect lance control failure.

I have very good friends at Rouge if I learn more I will post here.

-- Bill P (, January 09, 2000.

Is the Lance control human, or computer controled?

-- Netghost (ng@no.yr), January 09, 2000.

Thanks Bill. I'd be interested to hear what they have to say.

-- Cheryl (, January 09, 2000.


Some of the descriptions of the contents of the tank seem to me to be implausible, or at least ambiguous. With that caveat in mind, if the tank did contain liquid nitrogen, it would be accurate to say that it is non toxic, except to the extent that anything, including H2O, may be hazardous to your health in one or another circumstance.

IMHO, if it was a non-toxic substance, it would seem pertinent to mention it in order to alleviate concerns to the contrary, since some folks would worry about the possible toxicity of any chemical inadvertantly released from a chemical processing plant.


-- Jerry B (, January 09, 2000.

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