CSB Investigation at Barton Solvents Des Moines, Iowa, Facility Progressing; Immediate Cause was Ignition of Spraying Ethyl Acetate During Loading Operation -- Agency also Continues Examination of July, 2007 Barton Accident in Wichita, Kansas

November 1, 2007

Des Moines, Iowa, November 1, 2007 - Investigators for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said today progress is being made in the investigation of a large explosion and fire which occurred at the Barton Solvents facility in Des Moines, Iowa on October 29. The company packages, stores, and delivers solvents and other chemical products, many of which are widely used in the paint and coatings industry.

Lead Investigator Randy McClure said the accident occurred when an as-yet unidentified source ignited the ethyl acetate solvent being loaded into a 330 gallon square tank, called a tote. Mr. McClure said the operator who was filling the tote had turned away momentarily when he heard what was described as a popping sound, which witnesses believe was a pressure relief device.

Mr. McClure said, "A fireball then erupted from the tote. Pressure from the eruption knocked the filling nozzle out of the tank, spraying ethyl acetate into the room and onto the operator. His clothing ignited, but he quickly removed the ignited clothing and escaped serious injury. Another operator tried to use a hand held extinguisher to battle the blaze, but it emptied before the fire could be extinguished. He then shut off all power to the area and the plant was successfully evacuated. The flames spread quickly and eventually consumed and destroyed a large portion of the facility."

Mr. McClure said, "We will conduct tests to determine if the solvent could have produced enough static electricity to be the ignition source. We will also evaluate the design and maintenance of equipment in the area to determine its suitability for use in a flammable environment."

Mr. McClure and Investigator Jim Lay have completed interviews with the accident's three eyewitnesses and the facility operations manager. The team has made a preliminary assessment of the site damage, and requested the company produce certain key documents, including those related to training, chemical inventories, plant drawings, and Material Safety Data Sheets, which describe hazardous properties of chemicals stored on site. The team is working with the company and other parties to remove the collapsed structure and debris so that the area of the building where the initial explosion occurred can be accessed safely.

"We're receiving good cooperation from the company, and we are moving toward a productive investigation which I believe will eventually be of great interest and importance to the public and to the industry," Mr. McClure said.

The accident in Des Moines, where Barton Solvents is headquartered, follows an accident at Barton's Wichita, Kansas, facility on July 17, 2007, which the CSB is also investigating. Explosions and fires erupted in the outdoor tank storage area of the Wichita facility, which contained approximately 40 tanks ranging in size from 3,000 to 20,000 gallons. That accident involved a solvent called VM&P naphtha, used in the paint and coatings industry. The CSB is evaluating whether static electricity at the Wichita facility, might have ignited the solvent. We are also looking into tank design and spacing, and pressure relief systems."

CSB Board Member and Interim Executive William E. Wright said, "It is unfortunate Barton Solvents has had two serious accidents within the past 90 days involving the ignition of highly flammable solvents. We are particularly interested in any common factors found in these two events, such as potential static electricity ignition and equipment design factors. We will address any such factors in a timely manner and make necessary safety recommendations to help prevent similar accidents in the future." 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, contact CSB Public Affairs in Washington, DC: Sandy Gilmour, 202-261-7614, or Dr. Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613, Director of Public Affairs

Back to news