WEF, Methanol Institute Launch Safety Program for Wastewater Treatment Facilities

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the Methanol Institute (MI) have launched a safety awareness campaign in response to recommendations issued in a report on a fatal explosion at a Florida wastewater treatment plant.

The accident occurred on Jan. 11, 2006, at the Bethune Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, owned and operated by the city of Daytona Beach. Three workers at Bethune Point were removing a hurricane-damaged steel roof that covered two chemical storage tanks, one empty and the other containing 3,000 gallons of methanol. Two workers were up in a manlift basket using an acetylene torch to cut the roof into sections when sparks from the torch ignited methanol vapors coming from the tank, leading to an explosion that killed two workers and critically injured a third.

The report, released on March 13 by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), listed a number of recommendations to help prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future, including a call for WEF and MI to work together to promote methanol safety at wastewater treatment facilities.

Many wastewater plants add methanol to accelerate the biodegradation of excess nitrogen and reduce nitrogen-loading of sensitive aquifers from plant effluent. Excess nitrogen flowing from wastewater facilities contributes to an over-growth of algae, which can lead to hypoxia (oxygen depletion).

"Wastewater treatment plant operators use hazardous chemicals like chlorine every day, but many are unfamiliar with methanol," said John Lynn, MI president and CEO. "Working cooperatively, our two organizations will impart basic facts about the physical properties of methanol and how to properly store and handle this flammable and hazardous chemical. Tragic accidents like the one in Bethune Point are preventable, and knowledge is the key."

On March 5, a MI official addressed 300 wastewater professionals attending a WEF specialty conference on nutrient removal to discuss the CSB findings. The two organizations also are planning a two-hour Webcast, placement of articles in operator magazines, a presentation in WEF's Safety and Occupational Health Committee's (SoHC's) half session at WEFTEC® this October in San Diego, and working with WEF's safety and occupational health committee on technical reference guidance materials.

The CSB report can be accessed at http://www.csb.gov. For more information about the safety campaign, contact WEF at http://www.wef.org or MI at http://www.methanol.org.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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