The Chickahominy Report

News about Earth, Atmosphere, Water, and Life

Explosives spill shuts down North Carolina port

Explosive placard

Plac­ards like this are used to mark con­tain­ers con­tain­ing poten­tial­ly explo­sive mate­ri­als.

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — The port of More­head City, N.C., has been closed this morn­ing because of a leak of the explo­sive PETN. More­head City May­or Jer­ry Jones told CNN about noon today that the leak has been con­tained.

Chief Pet­ty Offi­cer Mike Hvoz­da (USCG) said the PETN was released from nine heavy card­board-sided con­tain­ers — each with a capac­i­ty of about two cubic feet — that were punc­tured by a fork­lift while unload­ing a ship at the port ear­ly this morn­ing.

As a result of the leak, offi­cials ordered a vol­un­tary evac­u­a­tion of down­town More­head City. They rec­om­mend­ed that cit­i­zens who chose not to leave stay inside and away from win­dows. In addi­tion, the U.S. Coast Guard estab­lished a two-nau­ti­cal-mile safe­ty zone around the port until the spill is cleaned up.

PETN, Pen­taery­thri­tol tetran­i­trate, is the explo­sive that recent­ly gained noto­ri­ety in the Christ­mas Day air­line bomb plot. Like anoth­er noto­ri­ous explo­sive, nitro­glyc­erin, PETN is also used as a vasodila­tor — a drug used to increase blood flow, often to the heart to relieve symp­toms of angi­na.

For­tu­nate­ly, PETN is not volatile. Accord­ing to the 2008 edi­tion of the Emer­gency Response Guide­book, it is typ­i­cal­ly trans­port­ed as a crys­talline sol­id con­tain­ing between 10 and 20 per­cent PETN.

The sub­stance itself is rel­a­tive­ly non­tox­ic, although it may cause nau­sea and headaches if swal­lowed. The pri­ma­ry risk — cer­tain­ly in this case — is its explo­sive poten­tial.

In the case of a spill, the Emer­gency Response Guide­book rec­om­mends iso­la­tion and an ini­tial evac­u­a­tion of an area of at least 100 meters (330 feet) radius. If a large spill, which may have been the case in More­head City, it rec­om­mends an ini­tial evac­u­a­tion of an area of at least 500 meters (one-third mile) in all direc­tions. In the case of fire, the rec­om­men­da­tion is an ini­tial evac­u­a­tion. of an area at least 800 meters (one-half mile) in all direc­tions.

Carteret Coun­ty Emer­gency Ser­vices Direc­tor Jo Ann Smith said the area evac­u­at­ed extends along the U.S. High­way 70 cor­ri­dor from 4th Street to the Beau­fort Draw­bridge. In addi­tion to the port, the area evac­u­at­ed includes the Dock­side Mari­na & Ships Store, the More­head City Yacht Basin, and por­tions of Radio Island. Smith said it did not include near­by Fort Macon State Park.

— David M. Lawrence

EDITOR’S NOTE: This sto­ry has been updat­ed through­out the day.

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