A molasses spill in Hawaii? I hearken back to 1919 in Boston. - 58tinton.win

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Friday, September 13, 2013

A molasses spill in Hawaii? I hearken back to 1919 in Boston.

I was intrigued to see the following news story from Hawaii about the molasses spill that occurred in Honolulu Harbor (or was first noticed, accounts differ) on Monday. According to the article, approximately 224,000 gallons of molasses spilled into the harbor and the United States Environmental Protection Agency is sending two spill experts to help the state characterize the damage and work towards a sustainable solution.

This article from Hawaii News Now explains that the responsible party, Matson Navigation Company, released more than a ton of molasses into the harbor. An investigation was done by Hawaii Department of Health when dead fish started showing throughout the harbor on Monday, about "three days after a faulty Matson pipe discharged 233,000 gallons of molasses into the water, resulting in a mass kill."

According to Reutersthe release was first noticed on Monday after a ship pulled out to sea, loaded with molasses. On Tuesday, Matson discovered a leak in the pipeline used to fill the ship. The Reuters article contained a statement from the Department of Health that the molasses would likely not harm humans, but it was "polluting the water, causing fish to die and could lead to an increase in predator species such as sharks, barracuda and eels."

CNN already beat me to the punch (or some sort of molasses-based beverage) on making the comparison, but this is not the first time molasses has caused such widespread devastation. Courtesy of Wikipedia, in 1919 Boston, a molasses storage tank burst and approximately 2.3 million gallons of molasses were released from the storage area of the Purity Distilling Company into North End Boston. The "wave" of molasses ranged from 8 to 15 feet high and was estimated to had moved up to 35 miles per hour, sweeping buildings off their foundations, damaging railroad girders, and killing 21 people (150 injured).  

Here's a picture courtesy of the Boston Public Library Flickr account:

Firemen in Boston's North End standing in sometimes knee-deep molasses. (c) Boston Public Library.
The Wikipedia article notes that the "harbor was brown with molasses until summer" (spill happened in January 1919). I couldn't find any information on whether the molasses spill into the Boston harbor also resulted in a large fish and other marine life die-off.

Many news companies ran articles with indirect quotes from a senior executive for Matson stating that Matson had not really planned ahead of time for the possibility of a spill. The Honolulu Star Advertiser ran a story that Matson "did not have a response plan for a molasses spill, even though its vessels export as much as 2,000 tons of the viscous liquid each week to the mainland from a pipeline at Hono�lulu Harbor."

The response plan they're talking about would likely be similar to a Spill Countermeasures and Control Plan (SPCC). An SPCC Plan requires companies with the potential to release oil discharges (and possibly other toxic substances, I am not an SPCC expert) to prepare an SPCC Plan, amend the plan when conditions change, and of course implement the plan, so that prevention of spills is the primary objective. SPCC Plans also cover preparedness activities and response to spills. SPCC is intended to protect navigable waters and their adjoining shorelines. There's probably a maritime equivalent, but the Industrious Hygienist lives in Arizona, so my knowledge of maritime standards is limited.

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