Fire Protection Research Foundation, NFPA, insurance industry, others launch campaign to curb dangerous IBC fire risk

Highlights

  • Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) are shipping vessels used for storing and transporting large quantities of liquids.
  • Unlisted composite IBCs (those that have not been inspected or certified to provide any fire endurance) containing combustible and flammable liquids stored in large quantities pose a high fire risk.
  • NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, includes rules for reducing IBC fire risk, but compliance is limited.
  • Visit the "Contain IBC Fire Risk" web site for information and free resources for the fire service and others involved with IBCs.

April 2, 2014 – The Fire Protection Research Foundation and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), with support from the insurance industry and coordination from other relevant groups, today launched the Contain the IBC Fire Risk campaign, an educational effort to reduce a serious yet frequently unknown risk for dangerous pool fires associated with intermediate bulk containers (IBCs).

This public education campaign intends to correct improper storage of combustible and flammable liquids in IBCs by encouraging compliance with NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids published by the National Fire Protection Association. This code governs storage, handling and use of flammable and combustible liquids.

IBCs are containers made of metal, plastic or a composite of materials often used for shipping and storing combustible and flammable liquids for agricultural, chemical, food or other production purposes. Although U.S. Department of Transportation and United Nations regulations permit shipping these liquids in IBCs, their rules do not apply to storing them and don’t require any fire testing of the containers.

Storage of composite IBCs containing combustible and flammable liquids can be particularly concerning.  When these containers fail, they release a large pool of fluid that, when ignited, rapidly releases so much heat that the fire sprinkler systems may become overtaxed. This system failure can occur faster than firefighters can respond to a fire call. The composite IBCs can be easily breached by even small fires and then ignite themselves, further contributing to the problem.


Video: IBCs containing combustible or flammable fluids can cause dangerous fires when improperly stored in warehouses and chemical facilities. Industry and public safety officials are currently working together to help reduce this risk.

Pool fires are extremely difficult to contain and as a result can be catastrophic events capable of rapidly destroying the entire building where the event occurs and also threatening adjacent buildings.

“Where improperly stored, IBCs containing combustible and flammable liquids potentially create an unrecognized hazard for dangerous pool fires,” said Christian Dubay, vice president and chief engineer, NFPA. “Proper storage in compliance with NFPA 30 ensures that these potential hazards are properly addressed.”

Despite this risk, those responsible for storage of commodities are often unaware of dangers posed by IBCs containing combustible or flammable liquids — or how to reduce the risk. Many falsely assume containers approved for shipping are also approved for storage.

“Awareness leads to increased compliance with NFPA 30, a critical step in the prevention of pool fires,” said Mike Snyder, director of safety & loss prevention for Dow Corning, one of the companies participating in the public awareness effort. “That’s why the Contain IBC Fire Risk awareness campaign is such an important initiative.”

Fire safety experts and insurance industry representatives working together to reduce this risk want impacted groups to know the following about NFPA 30:

  • Only liquids with a closed cup flashpoint of 38 degrees C (100 degrees F) or greater are permitted to be stored in metal, rigid plastic and composite IBCs. However, rigid plastic and composite IBCs must be listed and labeled
  • Unlisted composite IBCs are not permitted for storage of combustible or flammable liquids because they haven’t been inspected or certified to provide any fire endurance and have been shown to fail quickly in fires. Listed composite IBCs, in contrast, have been designed, built and certified to last in fires at least 20 minutes
  • Generally, flammable liquids (flash point below 38 degrees C or 100 degrees F) should never be placed in plastic or composite IBCs of any type, listed or unlisted
  • Combustible liquids should never be placed in unlisted composite IBCs 

In addition to educating impacted audiences nationwide about NFPA 30, the Contain the IBC Fire Risk campaign encourages these groups to make a commitment to safe storage by checking their facilities for NFPA 30 compliance and correcting composite IBC pool fire hazards. Visit www.nfpa.org/ibc to view specific steps for NFPA 30 compliance and learn more about this effort. To learn more about NFPA 30, visit www.nfpa.org/30.

About the Fire Protection Research Foundation
The Fire Protection Research Foundation plans, manages, and communicates consortium-funded research on a broad range of fire safety issues in collaboration with scientists and laboratories around the world. The Foundation is an affiliate of NFPA.

About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
NFPA is a worldwide leader in fire, electrical, building, and life safety. The mission of the international nonprofit organization founded in 1896 is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education. NFPA develops more than 300 codes and standards to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other hazards. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed at no cost at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.

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Contact: Lorraine Carli, Public Affairs Office: +1 617 984-7275 

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