Monday, February 3, 2014

Consequences Of Burning Crude Oil

Emergency Management/ Disaster Preparedness

Consequences Of Burning Crude Oil Detailed In Technical Brief For First Responders

By: Homeland Security Today Staff

A new technical report that details the consequences of toxins in smoke plumes from spilled crude oil shows that the quantities of these combustion by-products vary greatly and have different levels of toxicity.

Prepared by Aristatek, Inc, a provider of hazardous materials planning and response solutions, said it prepared its technical paper, Toxic Consequences of Smoke Plumes from Crude Oil Fires, in response to “several high-profile accidents in 2013 have highlighted the inherent dangers this substance can present, especially those effluents produced by burning crude oil.

The technical report analyzes these effluents and the company is making it available at no cost to all emergency response and public safety/health professionals at no cost to assist in their responsibility to protect their communities.

“We went back and forth” on the technical paper “as our analysis lead us in different directions,” Aristatek’s  C. Scott Bunning told Homeland Security Today. “What we discovered during our analysis is that some toxic threats can extend beyond the recommended initial evacuation zone of the Department of Transportation’s Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) of on-half mile in all directions.”

But the ERG made “no recommendations on downwind protective action distances for crude oil fires, so our data may be some of the first out there on this,” Bunning said.

“As crude oil burns, the resulting smoke contains chemicals which are harmful to humans if exposed to critical concentrations,” Aristatek said. “Formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, benzene, sulfur dioxide and particulates are the major effluents found in the smoke as reported in technical literature and are analyzed in the brief,” which “points out that in addition to the isolation and initial evacuation zones recommended by Guide 128 of the 2012 Emergency Response Guidebook from the Department of Transportation, emergency planners and responders may need to consider taking protective action downwind from a crude oil fire involving a railcar.”

“During a train derailment involving crude oil,” the company explained, “the immediate threats responders worry about the most often are the vapor cloud explosions and pool fires. But another threat are the toxins emitted in the smoke plume for folks that are downwind from the accident. We felt analyzing this threat could help emergency managers and responders make more informed decisions during planning, training and response for these types of accidents since there are no green pages associated with crude oil in the ERG.”

AristaTek’s analysis treats each substance individually by first calculating an expected total amount of each that would be given off for two different amounts of crude oil burned (30,000 and 10,000 gallons).

As an example of the brief’s methodology, formaldehyde can be produced at a level of 139 mg per kg of crude oil burned, while carbon monoxide can be produced at 30,000 mg per kg of crude oil burned. An average release rate is calculated based on the fire lasting an assumed 4 hours. Since each substance has a different toxicity level, the downwind protective action distance for each substance is calculated using the company’s PEAC-WMD hazardous materials technical reference and modeling software, using an assumed set of meteorological conditions to predict that substance’s potential consequence on individuals downwind. Some substances were found to have relatively small protective action distance (formaldehyde at 600 feet) and others have larger protective action distances beyond the half-mile recommended by the ERG (sulfur dioxide at 1.2 miles).

Also included in the technical paper are the signs and symptoms of exposure to these effluents for reference by responders.

Photo: Crude oil fireball and smoke plume during train derailment in Cass County, North Dakota, December 2013. Photography ©Dawn Faught 2014 -- All Rights Reserved

USA: FEMA - Caught between climate change and Congress

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USA: FEMA - Caught between climate change and Congress

By Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News

The agency has needed Congress to approve extra disaster relief funds every year over roughly the past decade to handle mounting climate-related damage.

Thanks to climate change, extreme weather disasters have hammered the United States with increasing frequency in recent years—from drought and wildfires to coastal storms and flooding.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that the U.S. agency in charge of preparing for and responding to these disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), doesn't account for climate change in most of its budget planning and resource allocation or in the National Flood Insurance Program it administers.

"Climate change is affecting everything the agency does, and yet it isn't given much consideration," said Michael Crimmins, an environmental scientist at the University of Arizona who is leading a project to try to improve FEMA's use of climate science data. "FEMA has to be climate literate in a way that many other agencies don't have to be."

A main problem, he and other experts say, is that FEMA doesn't use short- or long-term climate science projections to determine how worsening global warming may affect its current operations and the communities it serves.

Instead, FEMA continues to base its yearly budget and activities almost entirely on historical natural disaster records.

That practice is exacerbated by the fact that the agency is at the mercy of economic and political pressures. In addition to having to deal with years of recession that ate into its budget, FEMA has repeatedly been caught in the crosshairs of partisan politics that forced funding cuts and blocked proposed increases.

And so while the number of billion-dollar-plus weather disasters in the United States has increased five percent a year since 1980, FEMA's annual budget has stayed roughly the same, straining its ability to function.

"Recent events have been so big that they've swept through the agency, affecting every corner of funding," Crimmins said. "It is hugely problematic. FEMA is reeling and saying, 'Wait, we have to become more efficient at every timescale because this isn't sustainable from a budget stand point.'"

In 2011, 14 natural disasters with price tags of $1 billion or more struck the United States. As a result, FEMA was forced to divert funds from long-term rebuilding projects to cover the immediate response needs—things like food, water and shelter—for victims of Hurricane Irene. It faced a similar budget crunch following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a year that saw 11 billion-dollar-plus disasters. In fact, FEMA has needed Congress to approve additional disaster relief funds nearly every year over roughly the past decade to handle the mounting climate-related damage.

FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program, which provides coverage for more than 5.5 million Americans, faces particular risks from warming. It's already $18 billion in debt from Hurricanes Katrina and Irene, Superstorm Sandy and other disasters. And that deficit will only increase. According to a FEMA-commissioned study, released last year, flood zones could grow 55 percent in size by 2100 from mainly climate change, but also population growth along coastlines—doubling enrollment in the program and straining the entire insurance system. The report, recommended by the Government Accountability Office back in 2007, could eventually influence recommendations about how to reform the flood insurance program.

The 35-year-old emergency response agency has about 7,500 employees scattered across the country and operates on an approximately $10 billion annual budget.

FEMA spokesman Dan Watson denied claims that the agency is dragging its feet on including climate threats in its current budgets and plans.

"FEMA is working within its existing statutes and authorities to incorporate climate change adaptation into ongoing plans, policies and procedures," he wrote in an email. Watson pointed to the agency's recent announcement that it developed a way for states and regions to incorporate sea level rise projections into grant applications for disaster mitigation projects. The move was made in response to President Obama's mandate last November that federal agencies help states adapt to climate change.

With the trend of extreme weather intensifying, critics say that reports and suggestions are not enough, and they are urging FEMA to take a more proactive and aggressive approach. Two leading environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation, have petitioned FEMA for more than a year to overhaul its disaster mitigation program, asking to require—not just suggest—that communities include climate impacts in their grant requests and strategic plans.

According to the groups, FEMA officials agreed earlier this month in a private meeting to meet that request and update the process by the end of the year.

"It is encouraging news ... a great example of the direction FEMA needs to be heading in more," said Rob Moore, head of the water and climate team at the NRDC.

"We can't afford to simply respond as disasters happen and muddle through," he said. "The time has come to look forward 20, 30 years."

Additional information

Related Links


  • Themes:Climate Change, Disaster Risk Management, Economics of DRR, Governance
  • Hazards:Drought, Flood, Wild Fire
  • Countries/Regions:United States of America

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