Effective Chemical Management Software Can Help Mitigate the Risks of Storing Toxic Materials

chemical management software
How can chemical management prevent accidents caused by improper storage of toxic materials?
Image source: Flickr CC user LadyDragonflyCC

On the evening of August 12, 2015, a warehouse explosion rocked the Northeastern Chinese port city of Tianjin. The accident killed 100 people, injured hundreds more and levelled the surrounding buildings. How could such a huge tragedy happen?

It turns out the warehouse violated safety regulations by storing toxic chemicals near residential areas and major roads.1 These regulations state that facilities which handle and store dangerous chemicals must be located at least 1 kilometer away from public buildings. The Tianjin warehouse operated at almost half that distance from an apartment complex.

To make matters worse, the warehouse stored sodium cyanide, a mining chemical used to separate gold and silver from rock. Less than a teaspoon can kill an adult if ingested. It can also change into hydrogen cyanide, which can kill a person in less than an hour if inhaled. As a result, nearby residents are worried about the long-term health effects caused by the accident. Dead fish have shown up in nearby rivers and white foam covered the streets during the first rainfall after the explosion. Many area residents have also complained of headaches. It seems as if citizens have good reason to be concerned!

Important Lessons in Chemical Management

Aside from the zoning violations, the explosion revealed a some lapses in chemical management and safety.

Insufficient information and documentation

In the wake of the accident, the first thing officials did was inquire about the chemical inventory stored at the warehouse. The problem? The company failed to furnish this information—not because they refused to, but because they simply didn’t know!2 Examination of the disaster zone identified the presence of sodium cyanide and a few other chemicals, but it’s highly doubtful that a warehouse of this size would store only a few materials.

It’s a basic safety standard to keep an up-to-date chemical inventory for a variety of reasons. Knowing what’s being stored on-site at all times protects employees, ensures a safe workplace and in cases like the Tianjin explosion, informs the public of what symptoms they need to look for and precautions they need to take.

Improper storage of chemicals

Most of the chemicals known to be stored in the Tianjin warehouse were dangerous or flammable.3 An investigation showed that chemicals were not stored separately as they should have been. We’ve already witnessed what happens when chemicals aren’t stored correctly. The unfortunate part about tragic accidents such as this is that they could have been avoided had proper chemical management been followed.

That’s another reason why an up-to-date inventory needs to be maintained. It’s crucial to know which toxic chemicals are stored in your facility in order to know how to store them. Chemical management software allows you to easily access safety data sheets, which provide vital storage information. You can also use the safety data sheets to determine what class of hazardous chemicals your facility houses, so you know which items must be stored separately to prevent unfortunate accidents.

The Repercussions of Lax Chemical Management

As a result of these oversights, the Chinese State Council plans to conduct a nationwide inspection of all facilities that store and handle hazardous chemicals. That’s hardly surprising, considering the scope of the Tianjin explosion and the resulting fallout. If companies didn’t already have a chemical management system in place, it’d be in their best interest to institute one as soon as possible. Chemical management software doesn’t just help track inventory and ensure correct storage and handling; it also aids regulatory compliance. These guidelines are in place for a reason. Not only is compliance in a company’s best interest for safety reasons, it also protects their bottom line. Consider the financial repercussions that can result from a disaster like this.

Companies can benefit from chemical management software for a variety of reasons. They can use it to track inventory, so they know what’s on-site at all times. It allows users to access safety information easily so they can stay informed of proper storage and handling instructions. These two things together ensure that companies can be prepared for regulatory inspections at any time.

Is your facility interested in utilizing chemical management software to minimize the risks associated with storing toxic materials? Please contact us today to learn more about the benefits of BIOVIA CISPro.

  1. “Tianjin Blasts Expose the Dangerous Proximity of Toxic Chemicals in China,” August 21, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/08/21/world/asia/tianjin-china-explosion-hazardous-chemical-sites.html
  2. “Tianjin blasts: Another of China’s ‘profound lessons’,” August 17, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/17/asia/china-tianjin-industrial-accidents/
  3. “Lessons from Tianjin,” August 19, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/08/19/lessons-from-tianjin/

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