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Germany: Cut Pipeline Could Have Caused Fire

Investigation of Fatal Explosion in Ludwigshafen

| Editor: Alexander Stark

Two employees of the BASF fire department and an employee of a tanker which was anchored in the harbor died in the accident.
Two employees of the BASF fire department and an employee of a tanker which was anchored in the harbor died in the accident. (Source: BASF)

BASF published an update on the the fire at the North Harbor in Ludwigshafen. Two employees of the company's fire department and an employee of a tanker which was anchored in the harbor died in the accident.

Ludwigshafen/Germany — On Monday, October 17, 2016, there was an explosion and subsequent fires at the North Harbor in Ludwigshafen. Two employees of the BASF fire department and an employee of a tanker which was anchored in the harbor died in the accident. Eight people were seriously injured, 22 others were slightly injured. One of the seriously injured has been released from the hospital.

Status of the investigation: On October 26, the District Attorney of Frankenthal/Palatinate and the Police Headquarters of Rheinpfalz announced the following information on the progress of the investigation: “In the course of intensive investigations directly at the scene of the incident, it has been established that there was a cut made in a pipeline. This was apparently done with a cutting disc. Maintenance work using an angle grinder was in progress on an adjacent pipeline. The cut pipeline was not part of this work. This pipeline contained flammable raffinate.” (Excerpt of the press release from District Attorney of Frankenthal/Palatinate and the Police Headquarters of Rheinpfalz, translated by BASF).

According to the current, preliminary evaluation, this could be the chain of causes: The cut pipeline contained a butylene mixture. BASF assumes that this butylene mixture leaked out and ignited due to the sparks produced by the angle grinder. This could have led to the fire, which caused the described explosion.

Environmental impact: Following the start of the fire, comprehensive air measurements were conducted at the site gate and in areas surrounding the site in Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. The measurements showed no elevated levels of hazardous substances, as confirmed by the environmental ministry of Rheinland-Pfalz and the city of Ludwigshafen. Additional measurements conducted by the cities of Speyer, Worms and Frankenthal showed no elevated levels. Elevated levels measured locally were restricted to the immediate area of the incident. BASF has published the results of the air measurements as well as an overview map online. Water samples also showed no elevated levels of hazardous substances. A contamination of the ground at the incident site is likely.

Next steps: Due to the fire, the raw material supply of the steamcrackers was halted; also other Verbund plants, especially in the ethylene and propylene value chains, were idled or production reduced. Some of the plants were able to continue producing using existing raw material inventory. Meanwhile several plants, like the steamcrackers, started production. In the coming weeks the remaining plants will be gradually restarted.

The North Harbor is currently not operational. The riverside harbor, the harbor on Friesenheim Island and the tank farms are functional. Fluids can be handled at the harbor on Friesenheim Island. At the river harbor fluids and solids can be handled. Due to safety measures the access at gate 15 is not possible. Access via gate 15 will likely be possible for trucks in the upcoming week (calendar week 44). The railway system was also not damaged by the incident. The train service on-site is available.

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