Nov 8, 2014

Kidder Point History. August 1974, Delta Chemical, sulfuric acid plant acid fail causes shipwreck.

Excerpt about the acid plant and its  shipwreck causing August 1974 acid smog spill on kidder point from the BAR Railroad v Fernview, vs Delta chemical etc  lawsuit  in the 1970s

22. The Delta facility at Searsport consists of two separate sulfuric acid manufacturing plants, plant # 1 and plant # 2, each of which produces sulfuric acid through the "contact" process.

23. In the final stage of the contact manufacturing process sulfur trioxide ("SO3"), a colorless gas which bears a slightly pungent odor, is pumped into the bottom of an "absorber." The absorber consists of a tower packed with rashig rings which increase the contact surfaces within the tower. As SO3 enters the bottom of the absorber and is forced upward, a strong solution of sulfuric acid, a liquid, enters at the top of the absorbing tower and trickles downward. The SO3 mixes with water in the acid solution to form additional sulfuric acid, which is drawn off and stored as the product of the plant.

24. The SO3 which enters the absorber is only about 98% pure and contains residues of sulfur dioxide ("SO2"), a colorless yet extremely pungent gas which smells
[455 F.Supp. 1052]
like burning sulfur,21 and oxygen, and nitrogen, both odorless and colorless gasses.

25. Under standard operating conditions a certain amount of SO3 does not mix with the sulfuric acid solution in the absorber, but instead passes through the absorbing tower and out the stack into the atmosphere. In addition to the SO3, the residues of SO2, oxygen, and nitrogen contained in the SO3 normally pass through the absorbing tower and are emitted from the stack.22

26. Though colorless itself, SO3, when emitted from the stack, combines with moisture in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid mist, or, as it is known more commonly, acid mist. Acid mist is visible, appears white like ordinary water vapor, and is heavier than air. Acid mist is slow to disperse under foggy or humid conditions because fog and humidity tend to entrap it. Fog and humidity also hamper the dispersion of SO2 which, like acid mist, is heavier than air.

27. The optimum concentration of the sulfuric acid solution pumped into the top of the absorbing tower is 98.5% to 98.8% sulfuric acid by weight. The remainder is water. If the strength of the acid solution exceeds 98.8%, the efficiency of the conversion of SO3 into sulfuric acid decreases and the amount of SO3 emissions passing through the absorbing tower and out the stack correspondingly increases. The other emissions, SO2, oxygen and nitrogen, remain unchanged and continue to pass out the stack.

28. The concentration of the sulfuric acid solution entering the absorbing tower is recorded on a graph by a "98% acid recorder."23 The 98% acid recorder thus enables plant operators to monitor the strength of acid solution pumped to the absorber. On the basis of data yielded by the recorder, plant operators increase or decrease the strength of the sulfuric acid solution as conditions may warrant. The sulfuric acid solution must be adjusted continually in order to maintain the proper acid strength.

29. The normal operating life of a 98% acid recorder varies from ten to twenty years. The recorder in use in Delta plant # 2 during all times material to the present litigation was eighteen years old. In the week preceding August 21, 1974, the recorder for plant # 2 was repaired or recalibrated on at least five occasions.24 Prior to August 21, Delta had available in stock a new 98% acid recorder with which it could have replaced the recorder for plant # 2.
30. Delta plant # 2 was in continuous operation on August 20-21, 1974 until 0710, August 21.

31. At approximately 0030 on August 21 Randall Blake, the "A" operator for plant # 2 observed that the plant's 98% acid recorder had begun to malfunction.25 The recorder continued to malfunction throughout the early morning hours of August 21 and ceased to measure accurately the concentration of the sulfuric acid solution which entered the absorber.26 Without benefit of the information provided by a fully operational recorder, the plant in effect was "flying blind" from approximately 0030-0100 onward.27 However, at no time after Delta personnel had become aware of the malfunction were instrument technicians called in to repair the recorder.

32. As a result of the recorder malfunction, the operators of plant # 2 permitted the strength of the sulfuric acid solution which was pumped into the absorber to creep above the optimum concentration of 98.5% to 98.8% sulfuric acid.
Increased acid strength caused excessive amounts of SO3 to escape from plant # 2 during the early morning,28 along with the residual emissions of SO2, oxygen, and nitrogen. The plant continued to produce excessive emissions until it was shut down due to these emissions around 0710.29 The plant was not equipped with instrumentation capable of measuring the volume of emissions which passed through the stack during the period. Hence, it cannot be determined precisely how much gas was emitted on August 21.30

33. Delta personnel had known of the repeated malfunctions of the 98% acid recorder for plant # 2 which had occurred in the days immediately preceding August 21 and had learned of the latest recorder malfunction approximately six and one-half hours before the plant was ordered shut down and approximately seven hours prior to the FERNVIEW's collision with the BAR dock.

34. Although both Bennett and Harry L. Burns, the shift supervisor who succeeded Bennett at 0630 on August 21, possessed the authority to shut the plant down because of excessive emissions, neither did so.

35. Upon entering the atmosphere, the excessive SO3 emissions produced by plant # 2 reacted with moisture in the air to form clouds of acid mist. Some of this acid mist, along with the other emissions normally produced by the plant (SO2, oxygen and nitrogen), were carried by winds southwesterly to the BAR dock. The acid mist to some degree contributed to and made more dense the preexisting natural fog which the FERNVIEW encountered during its attempt to land at the dock.31

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