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Rio Neuquen

Rio Neuquen
Accident date
Accident area
Port of Houston, Texas
Spill area
Cause of spill
Structural damage
Nature of pollutant
Aluminium phosphide
Quantity spilled
7,000 flasks
Ship / structure type
Container ship

On 27 July 1984, during unloading of the Argentinean container ship Rio Neuquen, a container of aluminium phosphide exploded in the port of Houston. One longshoreman was killed and other men were exposed to phosphine gas. The response team found a bulged shipping container in the hold with much of the contents unaffected by the explosion. The aluminium phosphide was stored in aluminium flasks which were packed in cardboard boxes.
 After 2 days of discussions, the crew was finally removed by force from the Rio Neuquen. The hazardous atmosphere aboard the ship was continuously monitored but the handling of instruments (gas indicator tubes and photoionization unit) was unprofessional and improper.
 The flasks were transferred to overpacks and powdered lime was added as a packing buffer and desiccant material. The use of lime as a packing agent was debatable because it caused tremendous dust problems. Lids were left loose on the drums to avoid accumulation of gas and reduce the risk of explosion.
 After careful reviewing of several different disposal options, ocean dumping was decided. 7,000 flasks were handled on the deck of a supply vessel by personnel wearing full protective equipment. Each flask was manually punctured several times with the horn of a fire axe before releasing the flask overboard.
 After thorough evaluation, ocean dumping was shown to be a safe and satisfactory option that could be recommended for aluminium phosphide and related types of chemicals.

Sources :

- HELCOM, 2002, HELCOM Response Manual - Volume 2
- HOOKE, Norman, 1997, Maritime Casualties 1963-1996, second edition, LLP Limited, Londres
- MAMACA Emina, GIRIN Michel, LE FLOCH Stéphane and EL ZIR Rawad, 2009, Review of chemical spills at sea and lessons learnt, Interpsill conference 2009

Last update on 17/08/2009

External links

Incident report available on the website Rempec

NOAA database (IncidentNews)

Aluminium phosphide, Material Safety Data Sheets

CIIMAR database:  fate and weathering of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) involved

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