THE AZF PLANT CHEMICAL EXPLOSION

Kankana Dutta 205, Saumya Goel 208

000 injuries. The accident occurred at the Grande Paroisse (AZF) factory in Toulouse. massive shock waves and fire which resulted in 29 deaths and about 10. (Information for this report was based on the officially released report on the accident by the French government via investigation conducted by INERIS).1 THE AZF PLANT CHEMICAL EXPLOSION This report describes a runaway reaction and subsequent explosion. France on the 21st of September. 2001. also destroying the company’s facilities and several residential structures while disrupting businesses all around the city of Toulouse. . This report is made in a bid to highlight the importance of safety and emergency management practices in control reactive hazards. It also resulted in the formation of highly toxic chemical clouds which posed a high danger to drinking water and healthy living of citizens even for months to come.

The blast claimed 30 lives making it the most lethal modern industrial explosion in the history of the country. emergency response.2 INTRODUCTION It was just 10 days after the devastating 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States. At exactly 10:18am. while focusing the flashlight on the dangers of ammonium nitrate. AZF fertilizer factory. involving ammonia nitrate (AN). the city of Toulouse was rocked by a shocking chemical explosion originating from production halls of the Grande Paroisse. . This report will be considering in concise details the accident as a whole. aftermath. domino effects. public perception and lastly providing carefully. recommendations upon critical analysis of the shortcomings of the company and factory workers and events that preceded the explosion.

producing well up to 1.000 tonnes of other nitrogen based chemicals ranging from urea to nitric acid. The company’s factory. being strategically located on the left bank of the famous River Garonne and just about 3km to the centre of the urban city. up to 850 tonnes is used for fertilizers and the remainder for industrial uses (mainly explosive “foul” nitrate). being a very significant part of ATOCHEM. . 3. The Grande Paroisse factory concerned was situated on a 70 hectare site which is to the south of the urban French city Toulouse. was formed in 1924 (ONIA) and has since then metamorphosed to what it was before the explosion. The factory was well renowned for the production of fertilizers and other related nitrogenous chemicals. 1250 tonnes of ammonia nitrate granules per day of which. formalin to melamine (used in manufacture of resins).150 tonnes of ammonia per day. the company. garnering sales of up to a billion dollars worldwide.the chemical segment of TOTAL FINA ELF group. with about 470 people on its payroll also produces in addition over. who till date is a major player in the oil and Gas industry.3 COMPANY OVERVIEW Grande Paroisse (AZF).

resulting in a enormous explosion accompanied by a colossal shockwave which had an effect around 40km circumference of the incident.400m2) located in the plant’s nitrate sector. originated from a “downgraded ammonium nitrate” store. but nevertheless reduced traffic issues especially after the accident (haute-Garonne. The Haute-Garonne Prefecture requested that the population keep themselves safe indoors. 2007). The explosion resulted in large cloud of dust and red smoke which was assumed to be due to the emergency shut-down of the nitric acid producing plant. a measure which of little help to people whose house had already being shattered by the shockwave. containing high concentrations of ammonia and nitric acid. according to reports released by INERIS. creating a crater of about 65 m × 54 m in diameter and 7 m in depth. building 221 (2. which upon further dissipation resulted in other pollutants (haute-Garonne. This cloud was reportedly toxic.5 reading on the Richter scale. . where less than 400 tonnes of Ammonium nitrate went off. at the site. The blast attained a 3. 2007).4 INCIDENT OVERVIEW The explosion which occurred in the morning of September 21.

000 people while health services considering toxicological and epidemiological knowledge on the exposure-hazard relationship. mostly relating to transitory ocular and respiratory irritations. Although no long term effects for the pollutants released. while the civil protection mobilized a chemical hazard. Of most concern for environmental consequences was the pollution of the river Garonne. flying glasses and shockwave. the accident led to 29 deaths (21 at AZF site. environmental consequences and economic consequences. and reinforcements were requested to assist departmental fire service.000 people as at 2009 costing the company over 2 billion Euros (Total el Fina. yet they were responsible for a fair share of the injuries recorded. 6 offsite and 2 in nearby hospitals) and according to official records by the Haute-Garonne prefecture. The site has also been remediated and presently the location for a cancer research project also funded by the Grande Paroisse. Under human and social aspect. 2010). Hospitals were able to accept a large number of injured people. a total of 2. a claim reported by ORAMIP detecting very high levels of certain pollutants in the river. Injuries ranged from mutilations. showed a near-zero health risk associated with asbestos released via the blast (cancer).Pyrenees’ DRASS in 2003. compound fractures to pierced eardrums which were due to noise.100 employees were restricted according to a prefectoral injunction. 1 at SNPE. immediate fire fighting actions and rescue measures were deployed. extensive and substantial damage were recorded on the AZF site and colossal sums of 1.5 EFFECTS OF THE EXPLOSION Effects by the French ministry of environment was classified under 3 sections. up to 51. The site was also secured at the request of the registered installations inspectorate. Several establishments.000 employees) lamented losses to various degrees Emergency response was spontaneous with effective crisis management operations also. reported post-traumatic stress in more than 8. Compensations have also being paid (mostly out of court) to over 80. . Human and social consequences. For economic consequences. The INVS and the Midi.442 people were hospitalized and about 29 seriously injured.300 (up to 20.

600m and 500m (in that order) from the explosion didn’t suffer any direct damage as they were shielded by buildings that were ripped apart by the shockwaves themselves. standing at 300M. .6 DOMINO EFFECTS Surprisingly there were no serious domino effects both on the facility and surrounding installations. not by chance at the SNPE (national society of powders and explosives) site. and a liquid ammonia storage tank. 2001). Domino effect wasn’t recorded on the neighbouring facilities either. but for the technical know-how of 6 pyrotechnicians. an estimated 120% increase in victims would have been recorded if not for the SNPE safety systems. This resulted in a reduction damage which an explosion of this magnitude might have caused. an incredible automatic safety systems employed by SNPE. Absence of domino effects on other facilities can be attributed to distance. and quake resistant phosgene storage system. on which remains thousands of tonnes of gun powder (INERIS. Reports garnered by investigating bodies showed. Although. A pressurized ammonia storage tank. also by great chance for the former Braqueville national explosive factory. chlorine storage facility.

tagged as an explosive chemical under the EU legislation. Factory in question mainly specifically produces “fertilizer grade” (95% nitrate) and “technical grade” (as oxidizing agent in explosive preparations) (99% nitrate) (Grandeparoisse. (a phenomenon expert refer to as deflagration-to-detonation transition). compact and crystallized AN requires temperature well above 200oC to decompose although the resulting. handling. runaway reaction evokes so much heat. forcing the chemical to decompose aggressively resulting in an explosion. on Texas shoreline. till date. but under normal handling conditions this chemical is stable and doesn’t necessarily pose a threat of explosion. But its role in industrial explosions in history has forced the laws. In 1947.AMMONIA NITRATE It took a while to ascertain. . to the ministry of Environment. and usage by industries and effectively monitored by the SEVESCO directive. although a shock-to-detonation transition was responsible for the explosion on an adjacent ship with about the same quantity of Ammonium nitrate. After which excess water in product is evaporated to give specific grade of Ammonium nitrate depending on the intended specific use. an American liberty ship. although. and several laws have been enacted as regards its storage. according to official reports produced by the INERIS. resulting in the deadliest industrial accident in America. went off. that it is normally unstoppable. bore down to a chemical explosion which was linked to the mixture of a chlorine derivative (SDIC) with wet ammonium nitrate resulting in the production of the highly unstable trichloroamine (NCL3). the GrandCamp. Ammonia Nitrate (NH4NO3) is synthesized industrially from anhydrous ammonia (NH3) and concentrated nitric acid (HNO3) via a partly violent and very exothermic reaction. Pure. despite the fact that Scientific reports have ascertained that it doesn’t directly pose any direct risk of explosion except there is a high energy interference which acts as detonator. which according to report is very sensitive and likely to explode. containing about 961 tonnes of 38% ammonium nitrate (highly impure) meant for rebuilding of Europe’s agriculture just after the world war. Ammonia nitrate. The energy required for detonation is believed to reduce with increasing impurities. but the cause of the accident. 2009). Although the explosion was believed to be triggered by a fire source.7 REACTION OVERVIEW.

turned-inside-out bag of SDIC in shed 335 (storage site for empty bags that had contained ammonia nitrate and industrial nitrate). which all exploded. the INERIS findings is presently been accepted as the official cause of the accident. who’s content were apparently transferred onto a pile of nitrate awaiting disposal inside the entrance zone of Shed 221.8 INCIDENT ANALYSIS INERIS investigators highlighted issues resulting in this incident. we would suppose the factors below are key in the occurrence and impact of this accidentInadequate corporate oversight of process safety Lack of automatic safeguards Inadequate emergency plan drills Poor operator training/negligence Urban setting Pyrotechnical ignorance . In theory. Some 15 minutes later this mixture exploded and the blast spread to the ammonium nitrate stockpile in the main part of Shed 221. INERIS investigators. discovered an empty. which he assumed was ammonium nitrate. Judicial investigation also revealed that a warehouse worker in Shed 335 might have mistakenly tipped a few kilos of a chlorinated derivative (SDIC). even though several sects still argue the original cause. (with terrorism claims surrounding the blast). into a tipper containing real ammonium nitrate. Based on the reports provided by INERIS. Two days after the incident. no bags that had contained chlorine derivatives should have been stored in that shed.

and due to advantage of energy promised by the river Garonne. the operator was quoted by Barthelemy et al as saying the risk of explosion was very negligible. as at the 17TH century (ile de Tounis. 90 schools (in one of which the youngest victim. 124. This singular feat counted on the SNPE site making all the difference unlike AZF storing 400tonnes of “dirty” AN in a singular heap. 125 where combustible products were stored.9 PYROTECHNICAL IGNORANCE TMG showed a very low level of pyrotechnical know how. this shows a level of negligence for which the judicial sessions are putting the blame on the management for(AZF. And as reported by Marianne Arens and Francois Thull. age 15. . they were moved to this region. 2003). which have been proven to the a year before to reduce alarm time and consequently putting out the fire. the building 221 itself lacks any nitrogen oxide detectors. 1816. he was of course wrong. URBAN SETTLEMENT The urban arrangement actually contributed also to the extent of damages caused by the explosion. Building 221. it is quite unbelievable how the city had so much encompass the industries with little regards to the risks and dangers they pose. The city grew rapidly in the 19th century and as shown in Figure 3 below. a claim I support as even high-risk government buildings such as the Toulouse-blagnac airport stations. LACK OF AUTOMATIC SAFEGUARDS According to official reports. trial.explosives factory) were actually moved away from the growing city because of frequent accidental explosion (1781. where they purportedly admitted the explosion is a punishment for the complacency of the department for regional and urban development over the years. 1840). principally ignoring the three basic principles in storage of powders and explosive: dividing them up into small amounts. None of which was fitted with a fire detection system. four days after the incident. erection of partitions and the overabundance of safety systems. This devices were present on other larger facilities on-site. reports showed building of this facilities to the accepted level have been going for years. On proper historical analysis of urban settlement in this area it was observed that chemical industries in the area. courtesy of the INERIS. was located adjacent to the sack filling building 123. died) and even railway stations were situated.

. 2000 after examination by the SPPPI’s and information committee and public verdicts. in particular was succinct.Flooding. helping to and o control urban development. but it didn’t take long before the weakness of the regulatory body were punished. although is often issued requires operators to set up a safety management system and to carry out a periodic examination of the hazard studies every 5 years. 1996. The non-technical summary of the hazard study. not even the most probable. but in no way gave any idea to the risk posed by the factory. Although the factory passed this stage. which transposed into French law. AZF factory had a SEVESCO II directive of 9th December. in the millennium. The extension was granted by an order of 4th October. when lodging a request to extend the production capacity of ammonia in 1999 but ignored crucial bits such as major risks of accidents linked to ammonia leaks or chlorine escape. The company must also enlighten the public on what to do in case of emergency.10 REGULATORY ANALYSIS AZF facility was just one of the thousands of factories labelled high risk by regulatory bodies months before the explosion. The decree. according to reports the with the company managing to put issues such as air-crash on site into consideration.

documenting and maintaining appropriate safeguards with extreme training for personnel on how to prevent accidents and a good and suitable emergency plan alarm procedure to be complemented by a fairly efficient evacuation scheme. . A strict assessment through periodic audits and sharing of information amongst European states on accident and near-misses might also help prevent such in the future we would also suggest new laws as regards sub-contracting. we would recommend a standard program to ensure that reactive hazards are managed in accordance with careful and good industrial practices based under strict scrutiny by both the public and the government. At a minimum the program should highlight and characterize the probabilities of reactive hazards while strictly implementing.11 RECOMMENDATION In order to prevent further occurrence of such accidents. a effective plan for controlling of subcontractors such as labelling in the petroleum industry is highly recommended.

as this accident have revealed.12 CONCLUSION This incident provides basic lessons for manufacturers with reactive operations or storages. while still implementing and maintaining adequate safeguards to help reduce the effect in a worst-case scenario. Periodic internal audit should also be encouraged while training individual personnel for response in an emergency situation. for factories to point to the slightest details what could possibly go wrong and strive as hard as possible to prevent the reactive chemistry that can precede a similar disaster. . It is highly essential. It is also very important for factories not to wholly disengage in the management of their process and stressing the importance of safety even to the most aware subcontractor.

13 REFERENCES The AZF Trial.pdf. Toulouse magistrate court.azf. Grand paroisse.fr/fichiers/mediaLibrary/AZF/the-azf-trial-publication-va. . accessed 24/04/2011. available (online ) at en.

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