CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On July 17, 2001, boilermaker Jeffrey Davis and his co-workers were repairing a catwalk on a sulfuric acid storage tank at the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Delaware City, Del.
Somehow, a spark ignited flammable vapors from the tank. The tank separated from its floor, instantaneously spilling its contents. Surround tanks also broke open, and a huge fire erupted.
Davis, 50, was killed. His body was never recovered. Eight other workers were injured. More than 100,000 gallons of sulfuric acid flowed into the Delaware River.
Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found "significant deficiencies" in Motiva's program to ensure its storage tanks were safe. The tank had a history of leaks that weren't really ever fixed. Extensive corrosion in numerous Motiva tanks went uncorrected, the CSB found.
Motiva wasn't the first chemical storage tank disaster the CSB has had to investigate, and it wouldn't be the last.
As the agency begins its inquiry of the Jan. 9 leak of the chemical Crude MCHM from the Freedom Industries site along the Elk River, a review of CSB records shows that above-ground storage tank dangers have been well known for years.
Spills of toxic and hazardous materials from chemical storage tanks are nothing new. Last year alone, the National Response Center counted nearly 2,200 such incidents across the country.
The CSB has investigated a number of the more serious storage tank incidents and found a variety of major safety problems and regulatory gaps: