‘Smoke on the water, fire in the sky’: Ethylene Oxide explosion in Sunoco refinery

May 18th, 2009 - 8:41 pm ICT by GD  

A powerful industrial explosion left the residents of Sunoco startled and scrambling out of their houses to investigate, only to find a sight that was both dazzling and disturbing all at once….an explosion with impact running for miles around, followed by the fiery spectacle of giant flames leaping up almost as if from the river to touch the sky.

Situated along the Delaware river in the vicinity of the border between Delaware and Pennysylvania,the Marcus Hook refinery, which happens to be the second largest in the northeast and Sunoco’s largest, suffered the industrial mishap at around 10:15 on Sunday. Apparently having originated in the storage tanks of the ethylene unit, it resulted in the following fire that continued to rage long afterwards.

Despite assurances by local authorities about ethylene oxide not being dangerously toxic to humans, concerns persist about exposure of the local residents to this flammable and highly reactive chemical and resultant fumes. Ethylene oxide, though used sporadically as a fumigant in certain agricultural processes and a sterilizing agent in medical ones, is not produced for it’s sake, but merely as an intermediate in the production of industrial chemicals.

Though a matter of relief is the fact that no human casualties have been reported and the workers at the plant all seem to have been accounted for, containment and extinguishing of the fire continues to involve an effort-intensive endeavor that is finally beginning to pay off. Local residents have been assured that staying indoors is perfectly safe and that the fire-situation is now under control.

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