Explosion at Spanish ethylene oxide plant

Article by Amanda Doyle

AN explosion at an ethylene oxide facility in Tarragona, Spain, has killed three people and injured seven others.

The explosion occurred at 18:40 local time on 14 January. One worker was found dead at the scene and another died in hospital around 24 hours later. A member of the public was killed when a 1 t piece of metal from the site landed on an apartment block around 3 km away. According to the BBC, residents described seeing a ball of fire stream across the sky. Seven workers at the plant were also injured.

According to Reuters, more than 20 fire engines and 11 emergency medical service vehicles attended the incident, along with a helicopter.

The plant is operated by Industrias Químicas del Óxido de Etileno (IQOXE) and is owned by the Spanish conglomerate CL Grupo Industrial. According to IQOXE CEO José Luis Morlanes, the explosion occurred in a 20 t ethylene oxide tank. Operations began in that part of the plant in 2017 and had been operating normally, according to Morlanes. A company spokesperson told Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS) that the explosion began in a reactor which then ignited the storage tank nearby.

Authorities said no toxic substances were released, although a temporary shelter-in-place was issued for residents before this was confirmed. According to Spanish news website The Local, IQOXE has come under criticism by the deputy head of the region's civil protection division, Sergi Delgado, for delaying warnings to the public as no sirens went off. Delgado reportedly told Catalan radio RAC1 that IQOXE has not provided the information necessary for emergency responders to fully evaluate the situation. According to Spanish newspaper El País, it took the Civil Protection 20 minutes to activate emergency protocols and with little information they told people to stay in their homes. This was communicated via social media and not via a system that warns people directly via their phones.

IQOXE is Spain’s only producer of ethylene oxide, with a capacity of 140,000 t/y. In the last year a significant expansion has taken place at the plant at a cost of US$11m.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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