On March 4, 2015 around 1:30 pm a chemical fire erupted at Port Metro Vancouver. The busy port is located in Vancouver, British Columbia and the fire source was a single shipping container (Figure 1) carrying
trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA). It was initially shipped from China and was en route to eastern Canada by rail. TCCA is an industrial disinfectant, typically used in swimming pools; it is a crystalline powder which decomposes upon heating or under fire conditions to produce toxic fumes, including chlorine gas. The smoke exposure could potentially cause breathing difficulties, skin irritation and eye irritation. Port Metro was evacuated and people in the surrounding five-kilometre radius were
advised to take shelter by staying inside and closing all windows and doors. The multiple groups involved in the emergency response were able to extinguish the fire and smoke from the downtown area after 12 hours.
The reactive chemical fire was accelerated by pressure and temperature effects. Christine Moresoli, a Professor in Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, recognized the importance of carrying out a chemical analysis to highlight the severity of this safety concern.
Figure 1 – Port Metro Vancouver fire shipping container (photo credit: Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services)
The main teaching objective of this case study is for students to analyze the chemical reaction that occurred at the Port Metro Vancouver. Factors such as temperature and pressure should be investigated.