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May 8, 1997 
West Helena, Arkansas 
BPS, Inc.
Setting the Scene 
➔Bartlo Packaging Inc. (BPS) 
➔located in a rural/agricultural area 
➔agricultural chemical packaging f...
The Incident 
➔3 firefighters dead 
➔17 firefighters injured 
➔hundreds evacuated 
➔hundreds sheltered in place 
➔multi-ag...
The Response 
➔smoke discovered by employees 
➔FD called at 1302 
➔West Helena FD responds 
➔Helena FD requested (mutual a...
The Response 
➔yellow smoke is observed 
➔Chiefs review MSDS sheets 
➔units pull back to plan 
➔explosion occurs 
➔4 firef...
The Response 
➔firefighting operations cease 
➔hazmat team requested (toxic smoke) 
➔fire could not be extinguished 
➔fire...
The Chemical 
Azinphos-methyl (AZM)
The Chemical 
Azinphos-methyl (AZM)
The Chemical 
Azinphos-methyl (AZM) 
2783 
Organophosphorous pesticide
What went wrong? 
Possible Scenarios 
➔chemical decomposed by compressor 
heat 
➔decomp began prior to delivery 
➔incompat...
What went wrong? 
AZM
What went wrong? 
TNT
What went wrong?
Lessons Learned 
1. facilities should have full understanding of 
chemical hazards 
2. facilities, chemicals, equipment, m...
West Helena Chemical Explosion
West Helena Chemical Explosion
West Helena Chemical Explosion
West Helena Chemical Explosion
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West Helena Chemical Explosion

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On May 8, 1997, an explosion and fire occurred at the Bartlo Packaging Incorporated (BPS) facility located in West Helena, Arkansas. As a result of the explosion and
fire three firefighters died and seventeen other firefighters required medical attention due to heat exhaustion and minor injuries.

Hundreds of residents, including local hospital patients, were evacuated or sheltered in place due to the threat of exposure to toxic chemicals released in the blast.

This presentation reviews the incident, the chemistry, and the lessons learned.

Published in: Science
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West Helena Chemical Explosion

  1. 1. May 8, 1997 West Helena, Arkansas BPS, Inc.
  2. 2. Setting the Scene ➔Bartlo Packaging Inc. (BPS) ➔located in a rural/agricultural area ➔agricultural chemical packaging facility ➔bulk shipments repackaged ○ pesticides and insecticides ➔130 employees
  3. 3. The Incident ➔3 firefighters dead ➔17 firefighters injured ➔hundreds evacuated ➔hundreds sheltered in place ➔multi-agency response ➔2 weeks to extinguish
  4. 4. The Response ➔smoke discovered by employees ➔FD called at 1302 ➔West Helena FD responds ➔Helena FD requested (mutual aid) ➔West Helena chief meets facility personnel
  5. 5. The Response ➔yellow smoke is observed ➔Chiefs review MSDS sheets ➔units pull back to plan ➔explosion occurs ➔4 firefighters trapped by debris ➔1 firefighter is rescued
  6. 6. The Response ➔firefighting operations cease ➔hazmat team requested (toxic smoke) ➔fire could not be extinguished ➔fire was left to burn out
  7. 7. The Chemical Azinphos-methyl (AZM)
  8. 8. The Chemical Azinphos-methyl (AZM)
  9. 9. The Chemical Azinphos-methyl (AZM) 2783 Organophosphorous pesticide
  10. 10. What went wrong? Possible Scenarios ➔chemical decomposed by compressor heat ➔decomp began prior to delivery ➔incompatible chemicals react ➔compressor overheats AZM sack
  11. 11. What went wrong? AZM
  12. 12. What went wrong? TNT
  13. 13. What went wrong?
  14. 14. Lessons Learned 1. facilities should have full understanding of chemical hazards 2. facilities, chemicals, equipment, modifications should be regularly reviewed for potential hazards 3. material handling and storage SOP’s should be in place 4. all product information should be accurate and accessible

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