Category Archives: Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)

Cathy Bennett: Is it safe to open your windows in Benicia?

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Cathy Bennett: Is it safe to open your windows, Benicia?

By Cathy Bennett, Special to the Herald, June 24, 2018
Asphalt: Plastic Road

When the subject of Valero comes up most of us think about the refinery.  For many of us, this is a reminder of the toxic emissions it releases into our air on a daily basis.  That’s troublesome enough, but most of us are unaware that Valero also operates the largest asphalt production plant in California, right here in Benicia located on the perimeter of the Valero refinery.  This means that in addition to all the toxic emissions we are exposed to from Valero’s refinery, Benicians are in double jeopardy due to the extremely high levels of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) being released into the air from Valero’s asphalt production plant.

I first learned about the asphalt production plant last April after we had our first hot spell.  During the warm stagnant evenings, I started sleeping with my windows open.  When I awoke in the mornings I had a headache, irritated eyes and throat, and a bloody nose!  These being unusual symptoms for me, I made some inquiries and subsequently did some research.  It turns out these are classic symptoms of toxic exposure to H2S.  And one of the highest concentrations of H2S come from asphalt production. Here’s what I learned.

Relatively “safe” limits of H2S are between 30 to 50 ppm (parts per million). At exposure to 50 ppm, one’s sense of smell is deadened (you cannot smell it any more) & nose, throat & lung irritation occurs. At 100 – 500 ppm  a potentially fatal build-up of fluid in the lungs & pulmonary oedema can occur.  At 500 – 1000 ppm respiratory paralysis, chest pain, heart failure, shortness of breath, collapse & death can occur.

There are two types of Asphalt: Paving asphalt (which the production of routinely emits H2S at 100 to 300 ppm) and rubber modified asphalt (which the production of can easily emit H2S between 500 and 3,000 ppm). Valero produces rubber modified asphalt (according to Wright Asphalts Products), the most toxic kind with potentially lethal H2S concentrations!

Asphalt – Highly toxic H2S comes from asphalt production.

In a nutshell, hydrogen sulfide is created during the process of refining crude, and then it is extracted to improve the fuel product. The remaining heavy residue is the asphalt.  Valero then takes that asphalt and adds synthetic rubber and a sulfur compound catalyst to treat the rubber.  In this process, the H2S vapor can easily elevate from the base asphalt at 100 to 800 ppm to more than 3,000 ppm inside the processing plant.  Valero’s asphalt processing equipment is not a closed system, and hazardous H2S vapors routinely escape into the environment. Valero relies upon gas collection systems to capture and treat the escaped H2S, and relies upon the wind to disburse it when it is released into the air.   Leaks, accidents and vapor escape is hardest to contain during the handling, transfer and transportation of the asphalt product. Valero moves this product from its offsite warehouse, to the processing plant, in and out of tanks, and into container trucks.  Most of the handling, loading and transporting of the material takes place in the wee hours of the night, while we’re all sleeping.

At Valero’s other asphalt processing plants, the refinery footprint has a natural buffer of miles of land between the plant and the local residents, allowing for wind to more safely disperse the escaped gas.  But in Benicia, the Valero refinery and asphalt plant are less than 100 yards away from neighboring businesses and residents!  There is no “buffer” to protect us from these escaped gasses.  A coincidental succession of leaks, combined with a lack of wind and/or a slow-moving waft of poisoned air blowing into the windows of unsuspecting neighbors, can result in catastrophic physical harm to anyone breathing this stuff!  The damage is compounded when you take into account the cumulative impact of long term exposure.   And Benicians are not informed when these highly toxic “incidents” occur!  Our only evidence, is the physical symptoms we experience and our declining respiratory and cardiac health.

So would Benicia benefit from an ISO?  Absolutely!  Valero has been able to operate under a cloak of invisibility for 17 years.  Since 2001, Valero has chosen to make a hazardous asphalt product even more hazardous because it elects to operate its plant as economically as it can get away with.  Valero knowingly makes a hazardous situation significantly worse for its neighbors and increases the dangers to the community & environment. And Benicia is none the wiser.

I totally get why Valero opposes an ISO!  Valero doesn’t want any additional oversight of its operations and especially to be held accountable for its ongoing abusive practices.  Why should Valero be pressed to cut into corporate profits and spend the extra money to keep the community safe, when the community at large doesn’t even know all of the dangers they are being exposed to? That makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is why, after being fully informed of these and multiple other abusive practices, including Valero’s lack of transparency, failure to disclose incident reports and failure to provide air monitors to the residential areas of Benicia,  three of our City Councilmembers voted to shut down even a look at a draft of an ISO.  Yes, they actually refused to ask city staff to even review an ISO.  It’s obvious why Valero feels threatened by an ISO, but why are these three City Councilmembers refusing to even consider reviewing an ISO?  It’s a safety ordinance!  Whose interests are they serving? One has to wonder about the motive of any responsible leader, knowingly allowing such reckless harm to fall upon its citizens, and then to turn a blind eye when viable options such as an ISO is being offered.

We have a local election this November.  I urge all Benicia citizens to remember who on the City Council voted to protect Valero, rather than protecting the health and safety of the people they are elected to serve.

Cathy Bennett is a Benicia resident.

How industrial hygienists anticipate, recognize, and respond to rail emergencies

From Occupational Health & Safety OHSonline
[Editor:   Most significant: “The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recently released a web-accessible Transportation Rail Incident Preparedness and Response training resource.”  – RS

How Industrial Hygienists Assist in Rail Emergencies

Speaking at an AIHce 2016 session, several experts said industrial hygienists are well suited to anticipate, recognize, and respond to the hazards and to control the risks using science-based methods.
By Jerry Laws, Jul 01, 2016

All hazardous material railcarsIndustrial hygienists are well prepared to perform an important role during the response to a railroad hazardous materials emergency, several experienced experts said during an AIHce 2016 session about rail crude oil spills on May 24. Risk assessment, data analysis, and plan preparation (such as the health and safety plan, respiratory protection plan, and air monitoring plan) are important early in the response to such emergency incidents, and CIHs are equipped to do all of these, they stressed.

“With our knowledge, skills, and abilities, the training and education that industrial hygienists get, we’re well prepared” to interpret data on the scope and nature of a hazmat spill following a derailment, said Billy Bullock, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, director of industrial hygiene with CSX Transportation. He mentioned several new roles the industrial hygienist can manage in such a situation: health and safety plan preparation, town hall meetings to inform the public, preparing news releases for area news media, interpreting data from air monitoring, working with the local health department, and serving as the liaison with area hospitals, which can improve their treatment of patients affected by the spill if they understand where exposures really are happening and where a gas plume from the spilled crude is moving, he said.

Bullock said the industrial hygienist’s role is primarily in evaluating chemical exposures:

    • assessing the risk for inhalation hazards
    • supporting operational decisions
    • gathering valid scientific information
    • managing data and ensuring data quality reporting and recordkeeping

“All of these things we do as part of our day job transfer to an emergency situation very, very well,” he said, explaining that it’s very important to gain the trust of local responders and officials, including fire department leaders, hazardous materials response teams, the health department, and city officials.

Another speaker, Laura Weems, CIH, CSP, CHMM, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock, Ark., agreed, saying industrial hygienists are well suited to anticipate, recognize, and respond to hazards and to control risks using science-based methods.

Cleanup Workers Face Inhalation, Fire, and Heat Stress Hazards

Scott Skelton, MS, CIH, senior industrial hygienist for CTEH, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, LLC, and other speakers explained that the hazard assessment following a hazmat derailment begins by identifying the type of crude oil that has spilled. It’s critical to know its flammability and the status of the oil’s containment, he said, and if there is an active fire, officials in command of the response will have to decide whether cleanup personnel are wearing flame-resistant clothing or chemical-protective apparel and will default to protecting against the greater hazard, he explained.

Benzene exposure—a dermal and inhalation hazard—is a concern in the early hours of a crude oil spill following the derailment, Skelton said. He discussed a 2015 test spill into a tank measuring 100 feet by 65 feet, where the benzene was completely lost and other lighter compounds also were lost 24 hours after the spill occurred. But that type of large surface area for a crude oil spill is not typical at actual derailments, he said. Still, he said the inhalation risk for cleanup workers is of most concern during the initial 24 hours of a spill.

“It’s my opinion that heat stress is the most dangerous aspect,” Skelton said. “With these [cleanup] guys, heat stress risk is extraordinary.” The American Petroleum Institute (API)’s report on PPE use by workers involved in the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill confirmed this, he added.

Patrick Brady, CIH, CSP, general director of hazardous materials safety for BNSF Railway Company, pointed out that crude oil spills from derailments are rare: 99.998 percent of the 1.7 million hazardous materials shipments moved by the railroad during 2015 were completed without an accidental release, he said.

Brady said the railroad pre-positions 253 first responders along with needed cleanup equipment at 60 locations along its rail network. “The best case planning for us is we don’t rely on any local resources to be there at all,” he said, so BNSF hires hazmat contractors for crude oil derailment response and brings in consultants from CTEH to interpret monitoring data. (Responding to a question from someone in the session’s audience, he touted the AskRail™ app, a tool that gives emergency responders information about the hazardous materials inside a railcar or the contents being transported on an entire train.

Dyron Hamlin, MS, PE, a chemical engineer with GHD, said hydrogen sulfide is the primary acute hazard faced by responders after a spill occurs. While an H2S concentration below 50 ppm is irritating, 50-100 ppm causes loss of the individual’s sense of smell, and 100 ppm is immediately dangerous to life and health. If the crude oil in a railcar has 1 percent sulfur in the liquid, GHD personnel typically measure 300 ppm of H2S in the headspace inside the railcar, Hamlin said.

Echoing Skelton’s comments, Hamlin said API found that 50 percent of the mass of typical crude oils is lost in the first 48 hours following a spill; following the Deepwater Horizon spill, the volatile organic compounds measured in the air during the response were lower than expected because of water dissolution in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

He cautioned the audience members to keep in mind that all hazardous material railcars’ contents are mixtures, which complicates the task of calculating boiling points and other factors important to responders and cleanup workers.

DOT Helps Out PHMSA Offers Rail Incident Training Resource

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recently released a web-accessible Transportation Rail Incident Preparedness and Response training resource, saying it gives emergency responders critical information and best practices related to rail incidents involving Hazard Class 3 Flammable Liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol. It is off-the-shelf training that is available online and can be used anywhere throughout the country.

“TRIPR is the result of a concerted effort between federal agencies and rail safety stakeholders to improve emergency response organizations’ ability to prepare for and respond to rail incidents involving a release of flammable liquids like crude oil or ethanol,” said PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez. “We are committed to safety and providing responders with flexible, cost-effective training and resources that help them respond to hazmat incidents safely.” The resource was developed in conjunction with other public safety agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, and EPA, in order to prepare first responders to safely manage incidents involving flammable liquids.

“Some of the most important actions we have taken during the last two years to increase the safety of transporting crude oil by rail have been providing more resources, better information, and quality training for first responders. This web-based training is another tool to help first responders in communities large and small, urban and rural, quickly and effectively respond if a derailment happens,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.

The TRIPR curriculum focuses on key hazmat response functions and incorporates three animated training scenarios and introductory videos to help instructors facilitate tabletop discussions. PHMSA announced that it plans to host a series of open houses nationwide to promote the curriculum. Visit to download the TRIPR materials.

About the Author: Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.