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16351 Chemical accident in USA with pyrolysis gasoline (pygas)
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General accident information
Class/Quality * * * *
Year 1997
Summary Fast current in river caused collision of
25 barge tow with bridge causing spill of
Pyrolyis gas (benzene), evacuation and at
Least 100 casualties
Country USA
Chemicals Benzene/Benzol, Pyrolysis gasoline (pygas), Toluene (toluol/Methylbenzene)
Cause Natural-cause
Fatalities/Injuries 0 / >100
Occurrences or events Clean-up, Collision, Defective-working, Drive,
Drive-out, Escort, Evacuation, Evacuation,
Fire fighting/Emergency response, Get-loose/Lose, Human-operations, Natural event,
Overturn/Capsize, Pollution/Contamination, Pump-over, Release,
Safety-measures, Safety-measures, Subside/Sink, Traffic-interruption,
Unpermitted-smoking, Wrong-position
Full accident information 
download accident report Click here to view a document containing the full accident information

Date : 1997 0317

At approximately 1625 hours, the M/V F.R. Bigalow with a tow of 25 barges allied with a highway bridge near a city. All 25 barges broke free from the tow and all but 1 have been recovered. One barge loaded with a cargo of rock has sunk mid channel in 30/m of water. The 60/m double hull tanker barge IB 960 loaded with 1192/m3 of pyrolysis gasoline (benzene/toluene) overturned and remains in the inverted position approximately 610/m from the bridge. The barge struck a highway bridge during high water condition (fast current 16/km/h) and has been grounded and released 232/m3 of pyrolysis gasoline. The barge has been re-secured and is stable on the river bank. T/B IB 190 is stable and secured to a spud barge with wire rigging and tied to a levee. All observable leaks have been secured by divers. High benzene levels (15/ppm) have been detected in the area, causing the evacuation of 17 homes and 90 prisoners from a detention center. Air monitoring will continue throughout the entire operation. The river was closed 4/km, but later the river remains opens with restrictions,
southbound traffic during daylight hours and northbound traffic at night. Transfer operations have been secured having off-loaded an estimated 75 % of the cargo which took estimated 24/hours. Crane barges are being moved into place and are rigging for righting operation today. Once the barge has been righted, inspectors plan on giving the barge a permit to proceed to a repair facility. MSO/MSD Personnel and GST remain on scene to continue logistics, rigging, planning and coordinating vessel traffic.
To put the response actions into perspective, one should be aware of the great number of marine incidents that occur in the USCG COTP New Orleans zone, of which MSD Baton Rouge is a detachment. During just the 11/days of this incident, the MSO and the MSD were involved in the response to 8 breakaways involving more than 250 barges, 6 vessel groundings, 5 vessel collisions, 7 vessel allisions with bridges or docks, 1 vessel fire, 1 pipeline break, 3 sinkings and 1 vessel loss of steering. In addition, they instituted and managed a Vessel Traffic Service during this period of high water to facilitate the movement of barge traffic on the river. During all of this, they directed the successful response to the IB-960 incident.
Particularly worthy of note is that the salvage was completed in only 11/days with a loss of only 15% of the vessel's cargo and there were no documented injuries associated with the IB-960.
Hundreds of people sought medical attention for nausea, burning throats and other signs of chemical exposure.
The barge company has agreed to pay cleanup costs almost 33404 USA dollars to settle one of the last emergency response claims. The settlement could be appealed to a federal judge by attorneys representing a group of 12000 people who claimed injuries or property damage as a result of the leak.
At 11 July 2000, cases consolidated for discovery therewith. The settlement was 41.7E+6 USA dollars, for 17205 claimants, for an average award of approximately 2400 USA dollars per plaintiff. The settlement was allocated primarily based on zone awards determined pursuant to estimated exposure levels per claimant for the various zones, plus individual consideration of certain key claims. Details of the allocation are provided below. However, these allocations are net of attorney fees, class cost and liability reserves which totaled 25.7E+6 USA dollars, as compared to the allocation to claimants of 16E+6 USA dollars. The total settlement was actually 2.6 times the amount of the allocation to the claimants. (The attorney fee reserve was 16.7E+6 USA dollars and the class cost reserve was 2E+6 USA dollars.)
Net of attorney fees, class costs, and liability reserves, most of the claimants (82% of claimants) were awarded 500-1000 USA dollars each based on a zone analysis. Another significant group (14% of claimants) was awarded between 1000-5000 USA dollars each based on a zone analysis. That represents 96% of all the awards. Only thirteen claimants received awards exceeding 8000 USA dollars, as follows: eight claimants received awards in the range of 8000-25000 USA dollars; three claimants received awards in the range of 50000-75000 USA dollars; one claimant received 175000 USA dollars; and one claimant received 280000 USA dollars. Again, this was net of attorney fees, class costs, and liability reserves.
The largest award of 280000 USA dollars was for a woman who reportedly suffered some unspecified ???extraordinary medical problems??? as a result of the spill. Also, an area student received 21726 USA dollars, for aggravation of asthma diagnosed by a doctor, as ???markedly deteriorated??? between March 1997 and December 1998; and who was diagnosed as having an emotional adjustment disorder triggered by his exposure which created symptoms which were stubborn and persistent, but not severe.
Awards to some 26 evacuees who were ordered to leave their homes for as many as 11 days were set at a total of 3000 USA dollars for each evacuee. No awards were given for voluntary evacuations or shelters in place.

Lessons learned
The purpose of this Incident Specific Preparedness Review (ISPR) was to examine the implementation and effectiveness of the Area Contingency Plan process and its integration with response plans and other applicable contingency plans at the federal, state and local levels. The goal was to identify strengths and weaknesses in our planning methods and develop "lessons learned" that will improve preparedness for environmental protection. No comments should be construed as criticism of any response agency or of any actions taken.
The ISPR team consolidated the items worthy of comment into the 5 focus areas addressed below. These are presented as areas for the nation's response community to examine with regard to their own response plans. It should be noted, however, that there are numerous examples mentioned where the planning and exercise efforts of USCG MSO New Orleans and MSD Baton Rouge paid off in the efficiency of the response, the speed of response,
the capabilities of the responders, and the use of resources.
1. Area Committee/Area Contingency Plan
The Baton Rouge area response community was not well represented on the Area Committee (AC) and was unfamiliar with the Area Contingency Plan (ACP). While they knew from the start that the Incident Command System (ICS) would be used, some agencies were not familiar with their responsibility to provide agency representatives or other response personnel to the Incident Command System. Participation on the AC, or creation of their own AC (4th busiest port in the nation) may help to acquaint senior responders with each other and their responsibilities under ICS. Of great benefit is the fact that the ACP includes a HAZMAT section and is already formatted in an ICS format which makes it easy for the Unified Command and others within the response organization to identify their individual responsibilities. However, in general the response community was unfamiliar with the ACP and it appeared to have been little used.
2. Political Issues
The Unified Command (UC) may not have fully appreciated the need for local officials to be involved in the response, especially where their jurisdictions may have been affected by the hazardous material release.
Much concern was expressed by local emergency officials over the difficulty in receiving current information from the UC which they needed to provide their constituents. The UC remained a triangle including the FOSC, SOSC and RP, it did not expand into a square or tetrahedron to include the local officials from East or West Baton Rouge. Furthermore, while the ACP identifies the position and duties of the Liaison Officer, none was assigned during the response. Greater participation by MSD Baton Rouge on the Local Emergency Planning Commissions and in the Baton Rouge Area Mutual Aid System may resolve some of these problems as needs of local officials become better understood.
3. Response Management Systems
The ICS organization, throughout much of the incident, did not develop into a smooth-running operation. The Incident Commanders (ICs) did not appear to have received sufficient training on ICS to make them entirely comfortable with the organization and its roles and responsibilities. Consequently, there were some breakdowns in the management of the UC. It was not always clear to responders who the ICs were, there were ICS staff positions left unfilled or untalked, and at least one command staff officer was appointed without consensus of the UC. While ICS forms were used to great advantage, especially for daily Response Objectives, more practice in this area needed. Although there are 2 pre-designated Incident Command Posts listed in the ACP for the Baton Rouge area, a non-listed local fleeting center was made available due to the close working relationship between the MSD and the local port community. This met their needs for timeliness but soon proved to be too small for the ICS organization leading to impaired planning and flow of information. Once this became apparent, though, the UC weighed the advantages and disadvantages of shifting operations to a larger command post and elected to remain where presently situated.
4. Site Safety
For the first 3 days of the incident, the safety guidance provided was via a generic Site Safety Plan (SSP). An incident-specific SSP was prepared by the USCG ISC Safety and Occupational Health Coordinator (SOHC) after being called on day 3. Upon arrival, the SOHC was appointed as Safety Officer but without concurrence from the entire UC. This later caused some difficulties within the UC. During the critical phase of the salvage, while the cargo being pumped off, several changes were made to the SSP without input from the safety officer or his staff. These changes were not communicated to other personnel in the area and may have led to exposure of other responders. More oversight of response activities by safety monitors is recommended including monitoring the use of Personal Protective Equipment.
Insufficient relieves were provided for all responders and fatigue became an issue. The RP Incident Commander (who then became the Operations Section Chief) had less than 4-5/hours of sleep per night which may have led to some unsafe practices during the response such as smoking on the salvage barge alongside the inverted IB-960.
5. Public Affairs
While the Unified Command provided some media briefings and press releases, the USCG Public Information Assist Team (PIAT) was not called for assistance until the 5th day of the incident. Until the arrival of the PIAT on the 7th day of the incident, no Joint Information Center (JIC) had yet been set up. Without a JIC, there was no coordinated means, approved by the Unified Command, of reviewing all information that was passed to the public. The State IC held many media briefings without the full participation of the Unified Command. This may have been further compounded as the RP became too busy to participate in media briefings and to work with the public affairs staff on hand. This became a factor as the media
passed information that was not always accurate and led to near panic in some cases among the public. The true level of risk to the public was not made known in relative terms the public could understand. In fact, the spill was often related by the media as a "benzene" spill, which further contributed to the feelings of hysteria sometimes evident in the public.

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