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Wastewater Treatment Case Study: Methanol Safety 


Background of Methanol Safety Concerns

On January 11, 2006, three workers at Bethune Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dayton Beach, Fla. were removing a hurricane-damaged steel roof that covered two chemical storage tanks; one empty and the other containing 3,000 gallons of methanol. Two workers were in a man-lift basket using an acetylene torch to cut the roof into sections when sparks from the torch ignited methanol vapors coming from the tank, leading to an explosion that killed two workers and critically injured a third. 

Two days later, the U.S. Chemical Board (CSB), an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents, launched an investigation of the incident and on March 13, 2007 released a final report and 8-minute safety video.  (Note: Before the video launches, you will be prompted to perform a test to make sure your computer system is equipped to properly display the video.)

The report lists a number of recommendations to help prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future, including a call for the Water Environment Federation and the Methanol Institute to work together to promote methanol safety at wastewater treatment facilities.

Many wastewater plants add methanol to accelerate the biodegradation of excess nitrogen, and reduce nitrogen-loading of sensitive aquifers from plant effluent. Excess nitrogen flowing from wastewater facilities contributes to an over-growth of algae that can lead to hypoxia (oxygen depletion), which in turn can stress aquatic organisms forming to “dead zones” in affected rivers, lakes and seas.

How WEF Is Getting Involved

In early March, WEF and the Methanol Institute launched an aggressive safety awareness campaign in response to the CSB recommendations.  On March 5th, a Methanol Institute official addressed 300 wastewater professionals attending a WEF specialty conference on nutrient removal to discuss the CSB findings and issued a call to action for industry leaders.