Tag Archives: spill

Sea life Devastated by Molasses Spill

By Kim Smiley

On September 9, 2013, a reported 1,400 tons of molasses was inadvertently spilled into Honolulu Harbor in Hawaii, devastating the sea life.   When I think of ocean spills, pictures of oil-covered animals jump into my mind, but the molasses spill is proving to be potentially just as damaging to the environment.

This incident can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, an intuitive format for performing a root cause analysis.  A Cause Map visually lays out the causes that contribute to an accident to show the cause-and-effect relationships between them so that it’s easier to understand the factors that led to the issue.  Understanding all the causes and not just focusing on a single “root cause” helps broaden the potential solutions that are considered and can lead to a better long term solution. The first step in the Cause Mapping process is to define how the problem impacted the goals and then these impacts are used as the starting point for the Cause Map.

The most obvious impact from the molasses spill is that thousands of fish and other marine life were killed.  They suffocated because the molasses sank and displaced the oxygen- containing seawater in the harbor.  The density of molasses is what makes this spill so different from an oil spill.  Oil is lighter than water and floats on top of the ocean while molasses sinks to the bottom, with devastating effects at all levels in the ocean.  Divers investigating the molasses spill reported that there were no signs of life in the ocean near the spill; all bottom dwellers had been killed.

The fact that molasses sinks also means that there is no practical way to clean it up.  One positive about molasses is that molasses, unlike oil, will mix with water. It sits on the bottom until it is diluted and ocean movements disperse it.  Since the spill occurred in a protected harbor, the ocean movements are weaker and the time frame to move the molasses is longer than it would be in the open ocean, but nature will eventually return oxygen levels in the harbor to life-supporting levels.

The cause of the spill has been reported to be a leaking pipe.  Molasses produced on Hawaii was being pumped into a ship for transportation to the mainland where it was planned for use in animal feed.  During the transfer, the molasses was accidently pumped through a pipe with a leak and nobody noticed before the majority of the molasses had been released into the harbor.  Details about what specifically caused the leak haven’t been released.

There are also other impacts from the spill that are worth considering.  With any environment issue, the cost of the investigation and any clean up that needs to be done is always substantial. Many businesses in the area were also impacted by a drop in tourism because the harbor was closed for about two weeks after the accident and normal tourism levels will probably not return until marine life in the area begins to recover.  There was also a potential safety risk to any swimmers for a time after the accident because the presence of thousands of dead fish could attract predators.

To view an Outline and high level Cause Map of this accident, click on “Download PDF” above.

Roofing Asphalt Spilled on PA Turnpike

By Kim Smiley

On November 22, 2011, a tanker truck spilled a large quantity of roofing asphalt along nearly 40 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The spill damaged many vehicles and caused a traffic nightmare as crews worked for hours to clean the mess up.  The timing of this incident was also unfortunate because it occurred on the evening before Thanksgiving, traditionally a very high traffic time.

This incident can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, which is an intuitive, visual method for performing a root cause analysis.  The first step when building a Cause Map is to determine how the incident impacted the goals of the organization.  In this example, the safety goal was impacted because there was potential for car accidents and injuries.  Thankfully, no one was actually hurt, but it is important to note the potential impact in order to fully understand the ramifications from an event.  Additionally, the traffic delays are an impact to the schedule goal.  The customer service goal was also impacted because over 150 cars were damaged by the spill.

Now the Cause Map is expanded by asking “why” questions and adding Causes that contributed to the incident in order to show the cause and effect relationships.  In this example, there was a potential for injuries because more than 150 cars were damaged while driving.  The cars were damaged because they drove onto a spill of wet roofing asphalt.  The asphalt covered the cars and their wheels with thick, sticky goo and many of them undrivable.  The cars drove over the roofing asphalt because a tanker truck had leaked onto the road over a long distance.

The tanker truck was carrying a large load of the roofing asphalt, between 4,000 and 5,000 gallons, so there was a large quantity that could potentially be spilled.  Initial findings indicate that the tanker truck spilled the asphalt because of a leaking valve.  Details on why the valve leaked aren’t yet available, but they can be added to the Cause Map as they are known.

Another Cause of this incident is the fact that the driver of the truck was unaware that his truck was leaking so he drove almost 40 miles before he stopped and realized that there was a problem.    It was evening when the leak occurred so the driver wasn’t able to see evidence of a leak easily.

Media reports have stated that the driver of the tanker truck will be charged in the incident.  He is facing charges of failing to secure his load and failing to obey a trooper.  The website of the trucking company has posted a statement encouraging affected vehicle owners to file claims though their insurance.

Click on “Download PDF” above to view a high level Cause Map of this incident.

Spill Kills Hundreds of Thousands of Marine Animals

By ThinkReliability Staff

A recent fish kill is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of marine life – fish, mollusks, and even endangered turtles – and the company responsible is facing lawsuits from nearby residents and businesses affected by the spill causing the kill.  A paper mill experienced problems with its wastewater treatment facility (the problems have not been described in the media), resulting in the untreated waste, known as “black liquor”, being dumped in the river.  The waste has been described as being “biological” not chemical in nature; however, the waste reduced the oxygen levels in the river which resulted in the kill.

Although it’s likely that a spill of any duration would have resulted in some marine life deaths, the large number of deaths in this case are related to the length of time of the spill.  It has been reported that the spill went on for four days before action was taken, or the state was notified.  The company involved says that action, and reporting to the state, are based on test results which take several days.

Obviously, something needs to be changed so that the company involved is able to determine that a spill is occurring before four days have passed.  However, whatever actions will be taken are as of yet unclear.  The plant will not be allowed to reopen until it meets certain conditions meant to protect the river.  Presumably one of those conditions will be figuring out a method to more quickly discover, mitigate, and report problems with the wastewater treatment facility.

In the meantime, the state has increased discharge from a nearby reservoir, which is raising the water levels in the river and improving the oxygen levels.  The company is assisting in the cleanup, which has involved removing lots of stinky dead fish from the river.  The cleanup will continue, and the river will be stocked with fish, to attempt to return the area to its conditions prior to the spill.

This incident can be recorded in a Cause Map, or a visual root cause analysis.  Basic information about the incident, as well as the impact to the organization’s goals, are captured in a Problem Outline.  The impacts to the goals (such as the environment goal was impacted due to the large numbers of marine life killed) are used to begin the Cause Map.  Then, by asking “Why” questions, causes can be added to the right.  As with any incident, the level of detail is dependent on the impact to the goals.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, click “Download PDF” above.