Looking at the Chemical Factory Explosion in All Dimensions
According to the online forum entitled “Looking at the Chemical Factory Explosion in All Dimensions” organized by the Risk and Disaster Management Program (RDM) together with the Safety Center Occupational Health and Environment Chulalongkorn University (SHECU), we honorably invited academics and experts in various fields from the Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Architecture, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Medicine, Environmental Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University and the Thai Network for Disaster Resilience (TNDR) to share knowledge and experiences in the relevant dimensions related to the explosion and fire at a plastic foam factory in Soi King Kaew 21, Bang Phli Yai Subdistrict, Bang Phli District, Samut Prakan Province.
The accident caused damage and impact in various dimensions, including the chemical, engineering chemistry, social, factory safety, urban planning, environmental, and health and disaster management dimensions. The accident becomes an issue that the society pays attention to, and aims to create understanding, explain the risks, hazards, impacts, as well as guidelines for managing and dealing with the consequences of this disaster in a comprehensive manner. The moderator of this forum was Assistant Professor Dr. Natt Leelawat, Director of the RDM and Lecturer at the Department of Industrial Engineering, Faculty of Engineering Chulalongkorn University.
Dr. Phichit Rattakul, Special Advisor of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and Chairman of the Thai Network for Disaster Resilience (TNDR), spoke that the “public communication system” was still ineffective in this accident. There was a delay in communication of the warning to the surrounding communities and the public. Communication channels and communication content were insufficient and lack of clarity, making the people who were at risk did not know how to behave in the accident, how dangerous were chemicals, and how to protect themselves from danger. The effectiveness of emergency response to the incident was also limited by the insufficient emergency response kits and personnel that are and lack of expertise in response to fire and chemical spills. He also added about the importance of pre-incident preparation such as having risk assessment, emergency response plan and practicing with the community, assigning responsible persons for a chemical spill drill, learning about the dangers of chemicals, inspecting and preparing tools and equipment for emergency response. These issues should be monitored, implemented and regulated in the factory.
Professor Dr. Tirayut Vilaivan, Director of SHECU and Lecturer at the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University, discussed about the danger of chemicals from the chemical factory explosion accident that “Styrene” was the main raw material for producing plastic foam pellets in the factory. Styrene is an oil-like liquid and can easily catch fire. Styrene vapors are toxic and are classified as carcinogenic and irritant. Upon combustion, it produces carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs), which are toxic and harmful to humans in long term. In case of fire with oil-like chemicals and flammable vapors, foam fire extinguishers are required. The use of water can only help control the violence or prevent the spread of fire, but it cannot put the fire out. In addition, he pointed out the importance of risk assessment of factories where large quantities of chemicals are stored. This is because increasing amounts of chemicals result in a greater risk of serious accidents. Therefore, an effective emergency response plan should be prepared. Relevant personnel are recommended to study the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and basic chemical information from the website.
Associate Professor Dr. Tharathon Mongkhonsi, Lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University discussed on risk management by pointing out the importance of “Risk Assessment”. If we can identify the risks, we can establish the plan to prevent and handle potential accidents. He gave an example “Curved Road and Straight Road”. Each of them has different dangerous characteristics depending on the point of view, assessor's experience, and the circumstances of that event. Root cause investigation should be implemented to prevent recurrence by considering from 3 parts of information: 1. Who did it? 2. Who designed the process / how does the process work? 3. How did the problem occur?
Associate Professor Dr. Panit Pujinda, Head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, disclosed information that the exploded chemical factory was built in 1989, before the "Town Planning Act" was first enacted in 1994. Moreover, in those days, the location of the factory was far away from the city. But in the present, the city has expanded to the area around the factory causing the factory to be located in an urban area. However, the Town Planning Act stated that the factories built before the promulgation of Town Planning Act are able stay at its original site, but must not be contrary to public safety, public wellbeing, and public hygiene. If there is a need to move the factory or have adjustment, the advantaged (the surrounding communities) must pay compensation to the disadvantaged (the factory) by the surrounding community cannot force the factory to change or move out of the area, which is considered a universal principle.
Professor Dr. Pornchai Sithisarankul, MD., Lecturer at the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, mentioned that “the people who exposed to chemicals” can be divided into 2 groups: 1. Group exposed to hazardous substances from work, such as firefighters. While working, they should wear firefighting clothing and suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). If there is insufficient air for performing duties, wear fire-fighting clothing with Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), and medical personnel who worked in the accident area that may be exposed to hazardous substances as well. 2. Group exposed to hazardous substances from the environment, such as people who live in the vicinity. Long-term health impacts on patients were exposed to hazardous chemicals in this accident should also be monitored and documented.
Dr. Kallaya Suntornvongsagul, Lecturer at Environmental Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University and Deputy Director of the RDM, mentioned that “the source of pollution” is styrene and various chemicals that may have different properties. When these chemicals contaminated the firefighting water, it is passed through sewers into rivers and canals, and causes negative effect to aquatic animals. And when such water seeps through the soil surface, various soil microorganisms alter styrene properties causing soil and food contamination, and may increase toxicity. Dr. Kallaya suggested that environmentalists should conduct a risk assessment and do the zoning to monitor long-term environmental impacts. She also added that pre-incident and incident response plans should be prepared to prevent chemical contaminants from entering the environment.
Professor Dr. Pisut Painmanakul, Deputy Dean and Lecturer at the Department of Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University, said that the “Impact of Air Pollution” can be considered from 3 factors, namely, 1. Concentration (ppm). 2. Duration of exposure. 3. Health conditions of the recipient. From the explosion at chemical factory, it generated 2 groups of air pollution: 1. Gas produced by the combustion of styrene, consists mainly of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide. These gases float in the air and harm people living in the vicinity. The affecting range depends on the wind direction. 2. Particles, clearly visible to the naked eye. They look like black soot floating in the air. Although the particles in the air can be washed away by rain, they go to the soil surface and contaminate the environment, which can enter the body by touching contaminated object and ingestion. Therefore, the people in the vicinity will have to change their behavior, such as wearing long sleeves, wearing an N95 mask or a mask coated with activated carbon to prevent exposure to such pollutants.
Mr. Kritsada Prasertsukho, Managing Director of NPC Safety and Environmental Services Co., Ltd., said that “Emergency Management in Factories” consist of 3 phases: Phase 1 Pre-incident, there should be a risk assessment process in various aspects and preparedness in order to prevent an incident, such as a warning system, guidelines and practices, etc. Phase 2 Incident, this consists of 4 steps: 1. Assess the situation. 2. Combine action plans. 3. Build a team to control the incident. 4. Surveil. Phase 3 Post-incident, residual fuel management and environment management should be performed.
Before closing the forum, Assistant Professor Dr. Natt Leelawat has summarized the issues through the perspective of the risk and disaster that the chemical factory explosion is considered an accident which cause impact in many dimensions. One of the important things is to know the definition and principles that would play a role in every crisis situation. Although we cannot prevent certain types of disasters, but abilities in risk identification, risk management, as well as designing effective countermeasures can help reduce the impact of accident that will happen.