Environmental releases

“Anytime that white phosphorus is released into the environment, injuries are likely to follow… problems with P4 are worldwide and that releases long ago are still causing problems.”  M. E. Walsh US army corp of chemical engineers.

The release of white phosphorus into the environment though thankfully rare has resulted in limited study of its potential effects.

Walsh notes “Environmental contamination with white phosphorus has occurred at facilities that either produce or use white phosphorus, during railway accidents involving white phosphorus tank cars, and in areas where white phosphorus munitions have been filled or detonated.

Thorough and publicly available documentation of the extent of these releases and their associated ecological impacts are limited to just a few cases.”

Remediation of P4 contaminated matrices at FMC Pocatello , Idaho January 2009. p2-3

As a result of its flammability, white phosphorus is mostly associated with spectacular fires. Two such occurrences occurred in the USA in Brownston, Nabraska, 1 April 1978- An estimated 50,000 litres of phosphorus and debris were scattered over a wide area with 30 acres of crops in surrounding fields set alight. The other at Miamisburg, Ohio on July 8th 1986 also contained 50,000 litres of molten phosphorus on route from The Albright and Wilson plant in Varennes, Quebec, Canada, to Fernald Ohio. A mass evacuation of the built up area was initiated when the tank cars derailed. Many rescue operatives were injured after the phosphorus tank exploded. I have looked at this incident HERE. 

Another notable Albright and Wilson fire occurred in their Portishead plant in 1990. After two drums of stored phosphorus caught fire in August 1990, the fire was quickly dealt with. Two weeks later the same thing happened again but with much more serious consequences as it occurred during the night.  Over 100 firefighters attended with a massive phosphorus cloud covering over 15 miles, caused after other drums caught fire destroying the whole store.

p4 cloud over Portishead


The massive Portishead fire of August 1990 and the toxic phosphorus mushroom cloud it produced.