Mason County News
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Letters to the Editor
Propane Accident
Wednesday, September 5, 2012 • Posted September 5, 2012

Editor:

As a newcomer to Mason (three weeks) and with a Ph.D. in physics (UT-Dallas, 1994) I have been following the story of the August 2 propane accident with interests. No offense to Ron Freytag and his letter of August 29, but he wasn’t completely accurate when he discussed the truck as a bomb. The truck was loaded with liquid propane and liquids don’t explode, fumes do.

He was also incorrect when he speculated that he and others in the square would have had a quick, painless death if it had exploded. There was a real threat of the truck exploding if it had started leaking, but there was a much greater threat. Propane is heavier than air and sinks. If the tank had leaked, the propane would have flowed along the ground like water until it came in contact with an ignition source. What would have resulted is a horrible fireball that would have engulfed everything in its wake. The lucky ones would have died a terrible death. The unlucky ones would spend the rest of their lives recovering from their burn wounds. An article at http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Death-rolled-in-on-Plank-Road-3725451.php tells the horrific story of just such an accident that occurred on July 25, 1962 in Berlin, NY. The article states, “The gas flowed like a tsunami that burst into flames hot enough to melt steel.” Nine thousand gallons of propane spreading until it found an ignition source is a very scary thought. Of course, the flames would have gone back to the truck and resulted in an explosion, too.

Which brings to the reason for this letter. I saw a news report where the mayor said everything within a half mile had been closed and evacuated. Yet, you could see people standing around looking at the truck. I have spoken to eye witnesses who have told me how they were not evacuated and showed me images they took with their phones of the truck on its side. I think a better plan should be made in the event of a future accident involving hazardous material. With two major highways passing through town, the likelihood is high that another accident will occur some day. Advance preparation would help prevent a disaster.

But, better law enforcement could help prevent a disaster from ever occurring. I have been told the truck took the first turn into the town square on two wheels. That sounds plausible considering it turned over at the next turn. This means the driver was going way in excess of the speed limit. Considering the possible outcome of his actions, he should be charged with reckless endangerment. And, local law enforcement should work harder to make sure trucks entering town are obeying the posted speed limit.

I would hate to have Mason remembered as the town that went up in a fireball.

Chris Keating

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