Thursday, October 20, 2011

Release of Hydrogen Cyanide Still On-Going at Delaware City Refinery

We still don't know exactly the cause of the release of 200 pounds of Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) per day at the Delaware City Refinery. The only information we get through our SkyTruth Alerts system is what they report to the NRC, and yesterday's report said:

THIS IS A 24-HOUR UPDATE TO AN ONGOING INCIDENT. CALLER STATES HYDROGEN CYANIDE IS RELEASING FROM A CAT CRACKER UNIT DUE TO AN OUTAGE OF THE "CO" BOILER.

A release of this compound is not very common, according to our research. We went back 10 years through the our alerts database looking for reports of releases of 100 pounds or more of Hydrogen Cyanide. Not counting the daily release of 200 pounds from the Delaware City Refinery this month, we found only 48 other incidents reported to the NRC over the entire 10 year period. Obviously, this is NOT a common occurrence. 

How long will this last? How dangerous is this chemical release to the surrounding communities? With regard to health effects, according to this from the CDC's Medical Management Guidelines for Hydrogen Cyanide,
  • Hydrogen cyanide is highly toxic by all routes of exposure and may cause abrupt onset of profound CNS, cardiovascular, and respiratory effects, leading to death within minutes.
  • Exposure to lower concentrations of hydrogen cyanide may produce eye irritation, headache, confusion, nausea, and vomiting followed in some cases by coma and death.
  • Hydrogen cyanide acts as a cellular asphyxiant. By binding to mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase, it prevents the utilization of oxygen in cellular metabolism. The CNS and myocardium are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of cyanide.
To be notified of additional reports at this location, you can follow this incident 3 ways:

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