Explosion at UK oil terminal

Reports of an explosion that tore through an oil storage terminal jointly owned by Total and Texaco could be overlooking significant health risks, says a leading combustion engineer.

There were 36 reported casualties, only two of which were serious, and no reported deaths following the blast at the Buncefield terminal, Hertfordshire, UK. But that isn’t the end of the story, said Clifford Jones at the University of Aberdeen. 

People living near the terminal were advised to stay indoors and keep windows closed, but risks associated with the fumes were played down by health officials. 

’One point they overlook in smoke is polyaromatic hydrocarbons,’ said Jones, whose research on fuels and combustion is focused on hydrocarbon process safety. ’Polyaromatic hydrocarbons are the precursor to smoke: where you’ve got smoke you’ve got those, it’s why smokers die of lung cancer,’ said Jones. 

’I would expect there’ll be a blip in the asthma and bronchitis deaths almost immediately, and a blip in the lung cancer deaths a few decades down the track cannot be ruled out,’ he said.  

Sulfur dioxide also poses a significant threat, says Jones. The Buncefield terminal holds a range of products, notably heavier fractions that have higher sulfur content. ’So there must have been a fair amount of sulfur dioxide as well,’ he said. Sulfur dioxide is repeatedly linked to asthma and bronchitis deaths.  

The terminal, a joint venture between Total (60 per cent) and Texaco (40 per cent), receives, stores and distributes petroleum products from the Total Lindsey oil refinery on the south bank of the Humber estuary.  

AstraZeneca fights generics  

AstraZeneca has filed a lawsuit in the US against Ranbaxy Laboratories for infringement of AstraZeneca’s patents protecting its heartburn treatment Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium). 

The lawsuit is in response to an Abbreviated new drug application filed by Ranbaxy with the US Food and Drug Administration regarding Ranbaxy’s intent to market a generic version of Nexium. AstraZeneca says that the application was filed up to 14 years before six of its patents on the drug expired. 

The company is fighting several such tussles over generics, including a lawsuit filed against Teva Pharmaceuticals who it says are wilfully infringing a substance patent protecting Seroquel, a treatment for bipolar disorder. 

Ciba price hike  

Ciba Specialty Chemicals has announced global price increases for its full range of paper and water treatment chemicals. 

The company’s water and paper treatment segment is increasing prices for its entire range of water and paper treatment chemicals on a global basis. Increases will be between five and 30 per cent, depending on region and product range. All price increases are effective immediately, and customers will be contacted individually. 

Ongoing escalation in raw material prices, freight expenses and energy costs are blamed. 

All change at Cefic  

A complete review of the associations that represent the chemical industry across Europe is due to start in early 2006.  

Cefic, the European chemical industry council, is to be rationalised so that individual experts in specialist areas will replace the many experts currently representing each national association. Expertise in Brussels, say, could replace expertise in Strasbourg, London and Paris. 

The decision is not a Cefic initiative, said a council representative, but driven by industrial sponsors who support national associations such as the UK’s Chemical Industries Association. ’At the end of the day it’s the companies who want to spend less money on associations,’ he said. 

Viventia signs merger  

Viventia Biotech has approved a merger with its principal shareholders, collectively termed the Dan group (led by Viventia chairman Leslie Dan), so that Viventia will be amalgamated with a newly-incorporated private company wholly-owned by the Dan group.  

The Dan group now owns more than 90 per cent of the Viventia common shares outstanding through the recent exercise of warrants and conversion of debentures. 

The company also announced four interim bridge loans to fund ongoing operations. The loans were obtained from Clairmark Investments, a corporation wholly-owned by Viventia chairman Dan. 

Indian cancer research boost  

Collaboration between the University of Oxford, UK, and GlaxoSmithKline will establish the first Indian cancer-trials network comprising a number of India’s leading senior oncologists of major comprehensive cancer centres.  

The collaboration, involving the university’s department of clinical pharmacology and initial three-year funding from GSK will enable the evaluation of new cancer treatments in a range of cancer types including gall bladder, liver and cervical cancers which are more prevalent in India than in Europe or North America.  

Merck restructuring  

US drug company Merck plans to cut 11 per cent of its workforce (7000 jobs) over the next two years and close eight facilities (five manufacturing and three research). The company aims to save $4bn (£2.3bn) a year by 2010 following last year’s withdrawal of its painkiller Vioxx. 

Merck was dismayed that a federal court jury in Houston, Texas could not return a verdict in a case to determine whether Vioxx had caused a man’s fatal heart attack. The court is prepared for re-trial if necessary. The company faces over 7000 more Vioxx-linked lawsuits. 

Cornboard collaboration   

Technology transfer firm UTEK and furniture manufacturer Trio Industries have acquired Cornboard technologies, which makes a wood-fibre alternative from waste products of the corn processing industry. 

Cornboard technologies holds the exclusive license to a patented technology developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, which uses the fibrous husk and stalk waste products of corn processing to form a structural composite board reportedly stronger and harder than wood-fibre composites. 

The use of this otherwise discarded resource may provide significant cost savings and reduce the demand on wood forests, say developers. The corn-based fibre is widely available, and the husks require no further processing prior to their use in the composite. 

Agreement on Reach  

The EU Competitiveness Council has clinched a political agreement on Reach (Registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals), on the basis of a qualified majority vote.  

That political agreement must now be turned into a formal ’common position’ running to more than 1000 pages of legislative text, translated into all 20 EU official languages. 

Given that this recasting exercise is expected to take until the late spring of 2006 to complete, a second reading by the European Parliament is unlikely before summer or early autumn next year. 

At worst, there would be no final agreement on the new regime until early 2007, once the Parliament and EU ministers have settled outstanding differences through formal ’conciliation’ negotiations. 

However, many of the amendments demanded by MEPs at its first reading on 17 November were adopted by razor-thin majorities. Where Strasbourg amendments are being resisted by ministers, MEPs will find it hard to muster the ’super majority’ required under EU rules for amendments to be revived at second reading. In which case, Reach would be adopted in late 2006. 

UK Science minister Lord Sainsbury, who chaired today’s meeting in Brussels termed the agreement ’a job well done.’ While industry commissioner G?nther Verheugen declared himself satisfied that ministers had struck a reasonable balance on protecting health and the environment without imposing an excessive burden on 

Arthur Rogers

Freeze-dried acquisition  

GEA, a division of Niro pharma systems, has acquired Steris, a global provider of freeze-drying technology for the pharmaceutical industry.  

The company, based in Cologne, Germany, will be known as GEA Lyophil, and supply specialist freeze-drying technology for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology markets. 

GEA Lyophil complements the other members of Niro pharma systems, a group that provides a range of equipment for the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, including powder manufacture and processing, handling and containment, tableting and R&D facilities.