The spectacular blaze and volatile explosions of gas cylinders in Dallas this summer, have raised concerns about the safety of industrial plants and sparked a federal investigation into the city's industrial gases and chemicals facilities.
Southwest Industrial Gases, suppliers of acetylene and other gases, experienced the hazardous explosions in July which rocked an area along the Trinity River zoned for industrial manufacturing. Dallas officials indicated they had no record of safety violations at the company, but also noted that the city had not inspected the plant in around 5 and a half years.
Brigham McCown, former federal hazardous materials officer now practicing law in Dallas, said, $quot;The city has probably thousands of heavy industry and chemical storage facilities all over the city. Should the city have these types of activities so close to 2 interstates and a major rail line?$quot;
$quot;I want to know what went wrong because we need to be very careful that this does not happen again,$quot; said mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia.
Fire officials had said that 2 employees were filling cylinders with acetylene, using a series of connection tubes. After a connection malfunctioned, a build-up of pressure is thought to have caused one of the canisters to ignite and set-off a chain reaction of explosions and erupting fireballs from the company's site.
For safety reasons, the pressure in acetylene tanks must be carefully controlled and kept below a certain point, highlighting the tempestuous nature of the industrial and highly functional substance.
It seems it is not just in the US that a more careful handling of acetylene is required. Research by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) in the UK has revealed that the number of fires involving acetylene cylinders has more than doubled in London in the first seven months of 2007. There is often widespread disruption by such incidents, as 24-hour cordons and hazard zones are set-up as the cylinders are cooled down.
Val Shawcross, chairwoman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority which manages LFB, commented, $quot;We need the help of local councils in working with local business to ensure that acetylene is only used when it is really needed, and that it is always used and stored safely.$quot;
Following the recent incidents in Dallas however, several City Council members have said they want the city to assess the risk posed by those industries, with the wisdom of having residential areas so close to industrial plant zones currently in question.
Garcia explained, $quot;The reality is that there is a safety concern with some of these businesses so close to residential areas and downtown.$quot;