Recent research reveals the major factors which led to the Boston Molasses Flood which occurred on January 15th, 1919. The tank belonged to the Purity Distilling Company, which produced alcohol by using treacle.
In the day of the incident, 2.3 million gallons of molasses invaded the Commercial Street with 35 miles/ hour. The wave destroyed many buildings and houses, while it also caused a firehouse to collapse.
By the time the authorities managed to contain it, already 21 people had died, and other 150 had been severely injured. Based on the estimates, the Boston Molasses Flood caused around $100 million in damage.
Although most people believed at first that the accident was caused by a terrorist attack, the investigators soon realized that the tank’s jerry-built construction was to blame. However, they weren’t able to establish why the molasses exploded as a massive wave instead of just dripping out of the shoddy tank.
Therefore, a team of experts from the Harvard University has recently conducted a comprehensive investigation to find out what turned the Boston Molasses Flood into a deadly event.
According to Nicole Sharp, lead author of the study, science communicator, and aerospace engineer, the molasses should have been slow because of the freezing temperatures.
The team reviewed the data from the National Weather Service to find out what were the weather conditions before the Boston Molasses Flood. Then, the researchers conducted an experiment during which they used walk-in refrigerators to create similar conditions as in the day of the incident.
Also, they used corn syrup because it had almost the same consistency as molasses. Therefore, they have been able to see how the syrup flows at various temperatures. It is worth mentioning that the Purity Distilling Company received the shipment of treacle from Puerto Rico roughly 48 hours before the flood.
The scientists concluded later that the amount of molasses didn’t cool down completely after it had been brought from Puerto Rico, meaning that it was between seven and nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the Boston air.
The molasses cooled quickly when it hit the cold air and became sticky and thick. If the Boston Molasses Flood had occurred in the summer, it wouldn’t have been so destructive. Instead, it would have been thinner, meaning that it would have flowed much farther without hurting anyone.
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