(October 23, 2002 - Washington, DC) The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) will conduct a full investigation of the October 13th distillation tower explosion at First Chemical Corp. near Pascagoula, Mississippi, where CSB investigators are continuing to conduct interviews and collect other data.
The explosion hurled a six-ton section of the nitrotoluene distillation tower about 1000 feet into a neighboring plant, where it came to rest near a crude oil storage tank.
"The accident occurred near several chemical facilities that store and handle hazardous and flammable materials. Luck alone prevented debris from this explosion from causing a major chemical release," said CSB lead investigator Steve Selk.
Announcing the investigation, CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt stated: "Congress created the Board to examine just these kind of events - where there is a significant threat of public harm. Preliminary indications point to an uncontrolled chemical reaction within the distillation tower, which was idle at the time."
The CSB recently released a study of 167 serious incidents involving uncontrolled chemical reactions in the U.S. between 1980 and 2001 and called on OSHA and EPA to tighten regulatory standards covering reactive hazards.
Three out of the 23 workers on site at the time of the Sunday explosion received minor injuries, and nearby residents were temporarily sheltered in place. A fire ignited in a nitrotoluene storage tank at the plant was extinguished by company personnel. First Chemical Corp., a subsidiary of ChemFirst Inc., is a producer of aniline and nitrotoluene derivatives and intermediates.
The CSB is an independent federal agency established in 1998 with the mission of protecting workers, the public, and the environment by investigating and ultimately preventing chemical accidents. The CSB determines the root causes of these accidents and makes safety recommendations to government agencies, companies, and other organizations. The CSB does not issue fines or citations or apportion responsibility for accidents. For more information visit www.chemsafety.gov.
For further information contact Sandy Gilmour Communications at (202) 261-7614 or by cell phone at 202-251-5496 if urgent.