Washington, DC, Jan. 13, 2006 - The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) announced today it will conduct a full investigation into the Jan 11, 2006 explosion at a Daytona Beach, Florida, wastewater treatment plant. Two workers died and a third was severely burned. The men were performing maintenance activities at the facility. The blast occurred as a cutting torch was being used near a tank of methanol, a highly flammable chemical commonly known as wood alcohol.
CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said, "This was a serious incident involving the tragic loss of life at a government-owned facility where work activity is not overseen by any government entity. The wastewater treatment worksite was not subject to any outside safety inspections or regulations, a situation that is common in many states. We want to find out whether that was a factor in this accident and then decide what should be done about it."
At the time of the accident, workers were repairing damage done by hurricanes in the area last year. CSB lead investigator Robert Hall said his team today reviewed physical evidence at the site, collected evidence for further study, and began conducting interviews with the plant's staff, workers and others. Mr. Hall said, "We have found evidence of a deflagration, that is, a moderate-size explosion inside a tank of methanol which resulted in the failure of pipes leading to the tank. This in turn led to the total release of liquid methanol. We are investigating the precise ignition source which appears to be related to the sparking from a cutting torch in use nearby."
Mr. Hall said the team expected to continue its investigation into the weekend, then return to the agency's Washington office to begin analyzing the evidence. The investigators will go back to Daytona Beach as needed for further work.
CSB Recommendations Specialist Jordan Barab, who has special knowledge of health and safety issues related to municipal employees, is accompanying the team. Mr. Barab noted that in over half of the states, including Florida, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations do not apply to public employees' work places. "Some states have laws that provide some coverage to public employees. Florida was one of those, until it abolished its Division of Safety in 2000," Mr. Barab said, adding, "As Chairman Merritt said, we need to look into the potential link between this accident and the lack of regulations affecting the worksite."
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact: Public Affairs Specialist Lindsey Heyl, cell 202-725-2204, or Sandy Gilmour 202-261-7614 or 202-251-5496 (cell). Ms. Heyl is accompanying the investigation team on site.