This foundry suffered a natural gas explosion that resulted in three fatalities, six hospitalizations, and $30 million US in damages. The portion of the facility where the explosion occurred was completely destroyed. One of the fatalities occurred at the time of the initial explosion, but two others were caused by a collapsing building. Evacuation from buildings in the facility and emergency response efforts were hampered by acrid smoke and a broken water main.
How Did This Happen?
Although the facility handles both propane and natural gas, evidence suggests that an undetected natural gas leak slowly supplied gas to a confined space. It reached an explosive level and found an ignition source.
There were several warning, or near-misses, before the explosion. Twice the preceding week, gas odors had been detected. In the first incident, the leak source was never found and the odor was blamed on wind blowing the gas “smell” into the building from outside. The second near-miss resulted in a plant evacuation and occurred because a tank outside of the building leaked gas into a pipe that opened in the building. Both incidents contributed to a desensitization of the hazards of natural gas.
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