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Fifty four years ago Saturday

The Tennessee Eastman explosion, October 4, 1960. Sixteen dead, couple hundred wounded. Blew out a section of the factory the size of a city block.

I was born not far away, but I was a little babby of five months when disaster struck, so I remember naught.

Tennessee Eastman has an interesting history. Founded in 1920 by George Eastman, of Eastman Kodak fame, who was having trouble getting the chemicals he needed for photography in the aftermath of WWI. Over time, they have made all sorts of interesting chemicals. At the height of dubya-dubya eye-eye, they were kicking out a million and a half pounds of explosives each day.

From ’43 to ’47, Tennessee Eastman managed that part of nearby Oak Ridge that produced all the enriched uranium for the Manhattan Project.

Oak Ridge is a kind of neat place. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, but you can go in and take a lame-ass multimedia tour. I’ve always believed the lame-assery was a carefully contrived put-on. I once knew a risk management engineer who was given such a scary lecture about inspecting parts of the facility that he decided to write his report based on guesstimates instead.

Anyway, I don’t think they were manufacturing anything that interesting when disaster struck. The reports say it was nitrobenzene, which is a precursor to aniline. Hella flammable, obviously.

Unlike the tragedy that struck our friends the Iranians over the weekend. Whatever ignited that one, I have a feeling it was humming Hava Nagila at the time.

October 6, 2014 — 8:33 pm
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