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Boston Molasses Disaster

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Submitted By RocCKstaR
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Ethics Assignment
ECE 371

------------------------------------------------- Hitesh Rana


Boston Molasses Disaster

The Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses Flood and the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy, occurred on January 15, 1919, in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. A large molasses storage tank burst, and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 and injuring 150. The event has entered local folklore, and residents claim that on hot summer days, the area still smells of molasses.
The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company facility on January 15, 1919, an unusually warm day (40˚ F). At the time, molasses was the standard sweetener in the United States. Molasses can also be fermented to produce rum and ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient in other alcoholic beverages and a key component in the manufacturing of munitions at the time. The stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant situated between Willow Street and what is now named Evereteze Way, in Cambridge.
Near Keany Square, at 529 Commercial Street, a huge molasses tank 50 ft (15 m) tall, 90 ft (27 m) in diameter and containing as much as 2,300,000 US gal (8,700,000 L) collapsed. Witnesses stated that as it collapsed, there was a loud rumbling sound, like a machine gun as the rivets shot out of the tank, and that the ground shook as if a train were passing by.
The cause of the accident is not known with certainty, but the company was found liable and made to pay damages.
Several factors that occurred on that day and the previous days might have contributed to the disaster. The tank was constructed poorly and tested insufficiently. Due to fermentation occurring within the tank, carbon dioxide production might have raised the internal pressure. The rise in local temperatures that occurred over the previous day also would have assisted in building this pressure. Records show that the air temperature rose from 2°F to 41°F (from −17°C to 5°C) over that period. The failure occurred from a manhole cover near the base of the tank, and it is possible that a fatigue crack there grew to the point of criticality. The hoop stress is greatest near the base of a filled cylindrical tank. The tank had only been filled to capacity eight times since it was built a few years previously, putting the walls under an intermittent, cyclical load.
An inquiry after the disaster revealed that Arthur Jell, who oversaw the construction, neglected basic safety tests, such as filling the tank with water to check for leaks. When filled with molasses, the tank leaked so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks. Local residents collected leaked molasses for their homes

Source: Wikipedia

Summary and my opinion:

The Boston Molasses Disaster is a typical example of engineers not doing their duties properly. Even though the exact cause of the disaster is still unknown, but almost all fingers directly point to the people who were responsible for the quality analysis and testing of the tank. Arthur Jell is allegedly the main culprit as he was the one responsible for checking the tanks for leaks. This is a case in which a person is given a responsibility but he fails to do so.
Another claim was that the owners of the truck, in order to make more profits overfilled the truck and that resulted in the blast. In this the owners of the truck for their own personal motive put to risk, the lives of thousands of Americans. This is also an extremely unethical practice.
According to the IEEE code of ethics, “a person must disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment.” The engineers here are guilty for not following the IEEE as they would have known the implications of such a disaster and should have tried to warn the company heads or if need be to be more radical, the higher authority which would have stopped them.

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