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Responding to Ethanol Emergencies - Are you Prepared?

June 28, 2012


As the U.S. ethanol industry continues to grow with increasing amounts of the biofuel being produced, transported and used, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) believes that safety is a priority. Billions of gallons of ethanol are being safely transported across the country annually by rail, truck, barge, and even dedicated pipelines. Proudly, we note that 99.9% of all ethanol shipments are made without incident. But transportation can be unpredictable, and it is important that hazmat and safety teams, shippers, and first responders are knowledgeable and prepared in case of the rare and unfortunate incident involving ethanol. Since December 2010, the RFA has been hosting a series of Ethanol Safety Seminars at various locations across the country to ensure that those responsible for the safety of their communities have the information they need to be prepared to respond to an ethanol emergency. These seminars initially started through a grant received from the Department of Energy, and have continued to take place due to the overwhelming interest in the seminars and the generosity of stakeholders. With a total of 36 safety seminars already held, nearly 1,500 people have attended and received valuable ethanol response information they can put to use immediately in the field as well as pass along to other first response teams. A wide variety of companies and organizations attend the Ethanol Safety Seminars. Our participant lists show we have representatives from the ethanol industry, local environmental departments, law enforcement, railroads, terminals, and most commonly, fire departments. The response to these safety seminars has been fantastic. Many of the attendees tell us they are very thankful for this free information as there aren't many courses that offer this type of in-depth material. It brings to light all of the preparation and equipment needed to identify an emergency involving ethanol fuel and how to appropriately respond to the situation at hand. At each seminar, attendees receive an overview of the physical and chemical characteristics of ethanol fuel and placard recognition. Many times, attendees tell us, this information has not been presented to them and they are unsure of where they are able to find it and unaware of the differences between ethanol and other fuels. Becoming familiar with these fuels and their labeling is essential for someone on the scene of an accident to assess the situation and decide what response is needed. There is also a robust discussion about foam principles and which foams are best suited for ethanol incidents. There are many different foams that are available ranging in price and material. Many communities carry only AFFF foam because of cost. However, when using AFFF, more volume of foam is needed since it is not alcohol resistant. It is recommended that fire departments have access to and carry AR-AFFF, which is alcohol resistant and contains a special polymer that creates a barrier between the foam and the fuel that forms a cohesive blanket to extinguish the fire. This information is very valuable to communities when planning their budgets, deciding on equipment needs, and making sure their materials are compatible with other local departments. Excitement for these Safety Seminars has come not only from attendees, but also from companies and organizations that want to host the seminars in areas they believe ethanol safety information is most needed. The RFA has partnered with Norfolk Southern Railroad, CN Railway, BNSF Railway, TRANSCAER®, IRFA, Motiva, Tate & Lyle, Lincoln Energy Solutions, Adkins Energy, Big River United Energy, Homeland Energy Solutions, Golden Grain Energy, Absolute Energy, Novozymes, Siouxland Ethanol LLC, Little Sioux Corn Processors LLP, Eastern Idaho Railroad, ADM, Defiance County EMA, Shipley Energy, Exxon Mobil, MA Clean Cities, Kinder Morgan, OilTanking, Pacific Ethanol, Greater Indiana Clean Cities, Aventine Renewable Energy, Inc. , Midland Manufacturing, and The Anderson's, Inc. Thanks to these partnerships, RFA continues to be able to provide information to those who may be in a position to respond to an ethanol emergency at no cost. There are 24 Ethanol Safety Seminars scheduled for the remainder of 2012.  Visit for these future Ethanol Safety Seminar dates and locations and more information on ethanol emergencies. Testimonials of the Ethanol Safety Seminar: "Great information. I enjoyed the class and would like to see this class offered more often throughout the state." "It was all equally valuable/educational. All was well worth the time." "I'm newer in the fire service, so having this info definitely helps improve my career and safety of my department." "The entire course was valuable to be as a great refresher and to back up the limited training I have had on ethanol." "I enjoyed the entire class. Everything was greatly needed on the big E." "Entire program was well conducted with excellent organization and content." "All was valuable to various professions involved in the class for ethanol emergencies." "Instructor delivered seminar in a manner that was interesting and easy to pay attention to."