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The month of May marks the fourth anniversary of the ValuJet tragedy in the Florida Everglades. 110 persons lost their lives because the carrier failed to follow correct procedures for the identification, packing, marking, labeling, and documentation of dangerous goods and the company failed to train its employees and its agents (subcontractors) in the proper handling of dangerous goods.
As trainers and packers of dangerous goods we witness carelessness, indifference, and a scary amount of thoughtlessness or a total lack of knowledge when dealing with (or avoiding) dangerous goods.
Chemical oxygen generators, classed as oxidizers, caused the ValuJet accident. Due to a lack of awareness the generators were improperly packaged and during the takeoff the apparently improperly stowed and secured boxes were damaged by other cargo causing a rapidly expanding chemical reaction that resulted in an extraordinarily hot fire that caused the crash within about 10 minutes after the take off. The temperatures are said to have exceeded 2500 degrees F. No one involved in the handling or loading of those generators wanted to cause those 110 violent deaths.
If you are involved in any way with the transportation of cargo, either as a passenger, shipper, trucker, freight forwarder, or carrier, we would urge you give some thought to what it must have been like to embark on a trip home, or to a meeting with a business acquaintance. In the space of a painful 10 minutes or less you have no other air to breathe but the smoke and furnace-like air from a raging 2500 degree fire. Employees who did not know anything about dangerous goods caused those final minutes of agony and death. Not on purpose, though. They just didn't know any better!
When you go on your next trip, or your family is going on vacation, give some thought about the freight compartment below you. Was the cargo examined carefully to determine if dangerous cargo was present? If dangerous cargo is present, was it packaged and identified correctly? Is the flight crew aware of its presence? Did the shipper identify it correctly to begin with? Or is the shipper trying to avoid the extra charges for dangerous goods? Maybe, like the Sabertech employees working for ValuJet, the shipper or forwarder or carrier personnel don't know any better either.
Oxidizers are chemicals that, when involved in a fire, release oxygen, causing a greater intensity of the fire or are capable of reacting with other chemicals, causing a fire or explosion. ValuJet taught us just how "intense" that fire can get.
important issues for May 2000.
Oxidizing powders can also cause dust explosions.
Typical oxidizing chemicals are pool chemicals, water treatment chemicals, raw materials for drugs and pharmaceuticals, ingredients in bakery products and cereals, powdered bleaching agents, fertilizers, and frequently the ingredients in explosives. But, don't forget, oxygen, which is a non-flammable gas (division 2.2), has a secondary hazard of being an oxidizer. Oxidizing Substances usually require a diamond-shaped yellow label with the symbol of a fire on the top half and the number 5.1 in the bottom corner.
Observation: when a fire inspector comes on your property, one of the first things the inspector wants to know is whether or not you store oxidizers in the building. Your insurance company is equally concerned. Are you?
And, finally, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires that chemical oxygen generators cannot be shipped without a Competent Authority Approval. This applies to imports and exports as well as domestic shipments. Make sure the packages have not been compromised and read the approval carefully. Some approvals allow for surface shipment only!
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