Washington, DC, August 30, 2004 - The U.S. Chemical Safety Hazard and Investigation Board (CSB) announced today that it is investigating a recent ethylene oxide explosion at the Sterigenics International Inc. sterilization facility in Ontario, California.
At approximately 3:00 p.m. on August 19, an explosion occurred inside an ethylene oxide chamber and associated catalytic thermal oxidizer at the Sterigenics facility. The ethylene oxide chamber was used to sterilize medical equipment, and the oxidizer was used to destroy residual ethylene oxide. There were no workers in the immediate vicinity of the chamber when the accident occurred. However, the explosion severely damaged sections of the building wall and roof and shattered nearby control room windows. The explosion rendered the facility unusable. Glass from the control room windows injured three workers who were sent to the hospital, treated, and released. A fourth worker was treated onsite for minor injuries. Employees in the Sterigenics facility and some neighboring businesses were evacuated for a short time.
CSB investigators Randy McClure and Allen Smith have conducted interviews with Sterigenics management, employees, and local emergency responders. Sterigenics officials stated the ethylene oxide chamber where the explosion occurred was undergoing maintenance at the time of the incident.
Ethylene oxide is a probable human carcinogen and a flammable, colorless gas at temperatures above approximately 50 degrees F. In addition to its use as a sterilizing agent, ethylene oxide is used in the production of solvents, pharmaceuticals, antifreeze, and adhesives. Sterigenics International is the world's largest provider of sterilization services to the healthcare and food safety industries.
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 Kara Wenzel at 202-261-7642 or 202-577-8448 (cell).