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The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has announced it will conduct a full investigation into the tank explosion and fire at a Caribbean Petroleum Refining site near San Juan, Puerto Rico.

At 12:23am on 23 October, a large vapour cloud ignited at the Caribbean Petroleum Refining facility.

The blast damaged homes and businesses more than a mile from the facility.

Investigators from the CSB arrived in Puerto Rico that evening.

Over the past few weeks the five-person investigation team has conducted numerous interviews, requested hundreds of pages of documents and catalogued key pieces of evidence.

The Caribbean Petroleum facility includes a tank farm and refinery that were shutdown in 2000.

Prior to October 23 the tank farm stored gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and fuel oil in approximately 30 operational aboveground storage tanks.

At the time of the incident a tank was being filled with gasoline from a ship docked in San Juan harbour.

Investigators have determined that a likely scenario leading to the release was an accidental overfilling of the tank.

Gasoline spilled from the tank without detection; as the material spilled it vaporised and spread across the facility.

CSB investigators have estimated that the vapour cloud spread to a 2000ft diameter until it reached an ignition source in the north-west section of the facility.

The CSB found that on the evening of the incident, the liquid level in the tank could not be determined because the facility’s computerised level-monitoring system was not fully operational.

In order to monitor the level in the tank, operators used a mechanical gauge on the tank’s exterior wall.

Therefore employees located in the facility’s control room were unaware of the emergency.

Jeffrey Wanko, investigator-in-charge of the project, said: ‘The filling of a tank without a functioning monitoring system is the type of activity the CSB will be examining very closely.

‘The CSB’s investigation will examine operations particular to Caribbean Petroleum, but will also look at the regulations and best practices surrounding the industry as a whole in an effort to improve safety practices at similar facilities.’

US Chemical Safety Board

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