Washington, DC, January 25, 2008 - Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) today concluded the initial field investigation of the fatal accident at T2 Laboratories Inc. Among investigators' findings thus far is that that the number of people injured was more than double what was known immediately after the accident.
Investigators say that 33 people were injured in the massive explosion and fire at the Jacksonville, Florida, chemical plant on December 19. Many of these injuries resulted from flying and falling debris due to structural damage to offsite buildings. The team plans to return to Washington, DC, later today to continue the investigation of the causes of the accident.
The explosion resulted in the death of four workers; preliminary findings indicate that the accident occurred as a result of a runaway chemical reaction during the production of a gasoline additive called methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MCMT or Ecotane®). The loss of control of the reaction probably occurred during the first step of the process where more than half a ton of metallic sodium was reacted in a steel vessel with other raw materials, producing hydrogen gas as a byproduct. T2 is a small company with about a dozen employees and the single production site in Jacksonville.
The reactor eventually overpressured and ruptured at a pressure of several thousand pounds per square inch. The contents of the reactor immediately ignited creating a fireball and mushroom cloud rising approximately 2000 feet high.
CSB Supervisory Investigator Robert Hall, P.E., said, "As a result of our interviews, the CSB has discovered that over 30 people were injured, versus the 14 reported the first few days following the accident." After conducting over 50 interviews CSB investigators determined the significantly higher number of injuries. Initial media reports of 14 injuries did not count individuals who sought medical attention on their own. Most of the injuries occurred off-site when a powerful blast wave swept through surrounding businesses; only 9 people were at the T2 site when the accident occurred.
Mr. Hall said, "We will conduct laboratory testing to quantify the amount of heat and pressure released by the reaction. Our goal is to discover what went wrong on December 19 and to prevent a similar accident from happening again."
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 regulations, industry standards, and 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. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, please contact Public Affairs Specialists Hillary Cohen at (202) 261-3601 or Jennifer Jones at (202) 261-3603.