Armenian Update

Messing around online this morning and came across this update on the explosion at the Nairit rubber facility in Yerevan, Armenia. Death toll is now 4, although there is talk of a fifth fatality. As is all too often the case in these situations, this accident didn't just happen out of the blue.

According to, the facility has had a troubled history going back to the bad old days of the Soviet Union. The Asbarez report says that "the chemical giant periodically faces emergency situations blamed on its obsolete Soviet-era equipment and poor safety standards. In one such instance, two Nairit reservoirs containing inflammable industrial waste caught fire that raged for two days before being extinguish by firefighters in December 2006. Nobody was seriously hurt at the time."

The plant also has a history of labor and financial troubles and some criminal activity (See this report from December 2006).

Looks to me like this is one of those lethal combinations of bad engineering, bad economics, bad politics, aging and rickety infrastructure, greed, good intentions, a poor country trying to get itself back on its feet after decades of systematic trashing, and poor schmoes just trying to do a day's work and get paid for it. The real wonder is that something worse didn't happen sooner.

But let's not be too smug here. We shouldn't just shrug this off as one of those things that happens in poor countries with strange names and what do you expect from a bunch of ex-Soviets. Does the name Bayer Cropscience strike a familiar note?

Now lest you think I'm gratuitously playing the "evil management" and "ain't it awful" cards here, let me go on record that I don't believe any plant manager or company CEO or anybody else gets up in the morning and says "Let's see if we can blow up the plant and kill people today." When one of these things happens, it's got to be the worst day in the life of the folks on the ground and in the lives of the suits who have to face the press and angry local, state and federal officals and politicos. 

What happens is that folks succumb to the very human temptation to take the easy way out, the shortcut, the cheaper answer and the gamble that we'll get away with it this time because we always have in the past. 

Problem is, at some point, we always lose that bet.