chapter  1
44 Pages

January 6, 2005: A Gas Attack on Home Ground

January 6, 2005: A Gas Attack on Home Ground You have to go back to February 24, 1978, for an incident that brought hazardous materials to the attention of the national media like the 2005 incident in Graniteville, South Carolina. Hazardous materials spattered upon the public consciousness of our nation with incredible force on February 24, 1978, when a single jumbo tank car carrying 27,871 gallons of liquefi ed petroleum gas (propane) ruptured with a Hiroshima-like fi reball in downtown Waverly, Tennessee, killing sixteen persons and leaving scores more to stumble through the business district, skin dripping from their bodies like runny Saran-wrap. Two days earlier, a high-carbon wheel on a gondola car, its incompatible brake shoes overheated by a handbrake negligently left in the applied position, broke seven miles outside of Waverly allowing the damaged wheel-truck to bounce across cross-ties through deserted countryside and fi nally derail twenty-four cars in downtown Waverly. Within its 25/32-inch-thick steel envelope, tank car UTLX-83013 carried roughly twice the weight and three times the volume of compressed, fl ammable gas permitted in a single tank car prior to the late 1950s. Th e benign-appearing yet massive bomb became an attraction, a curiosity luring townspeople into the area. When the liquid propane leaked from that fragile container forty hours aft er the derailment, it would instantly expand 270 times to highly fl ammable gas waiting for an ignition source, and the story of Waverly would be etched in 1,700 degree heat.