St. Louis, Missouri, June 27, 2005 - An investigation team from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) today conducted a series of key interviews into the explosions and fire that swept through the Praxair, Inc. gas repackaging facility in St. Louis last Friday. The team wrapped up its initial fieldwork and planned to return to headquarters in Washington, DC.
Investigations Manager Steve Selk said the three-member CSB team interviewed several eyewitnesses, as well as Praxair senior managers and technical experts. "After concluding our interviews here today, we will return to Washington and consider the broader issues of this incident. These include the plant's fire protection system and whether there are opportunities for improvement of fire suppression in outdoor storage facilities. We are also examining the impact on the community," Mr. Selk said.
He added, "We want to know why some small fires were able to grow into a conflagration." In addition, he said, the CSB will research applicable fire codes and examine similar incidents.
Mr. Selk said it might prove impossible to determine the precise cause of the initiating explosion and fire, given the extent of the damage, adding the St. Louis Fire Department is continuing its investigation and has agreed to share its findings with the CSB. Praxair handles propane, acetylene and other gases, re-packaging them into containers of various sizes for sale to industrial and commercial customers. The Friday afternoon fire consumed what CSB investigators estimate were 200 gas cylinders, many containing acetylene, a highly flammable gas used in welding and other processes.
"The result of the massive fire effectively was to launch what we estimate was a barrage of dozens of gas containers which flew like missiles from Praxair's facility as they exploded," Mr. Selk said today, adding, "Pieces landed on roofs, in gardens and other locations in a neighboring community, and it was fortunate no one was injured by the flying debris." The CSB team used GPS tracking to precisely determine the locations of the cylinders and metal pieces that landed in neighboring areas.
CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said, "It is clear the plant was unable to extinguish the initial fire which then led to the bigger fires and explosions that raged out of control and threatened the community with flying debris. We are grateful no one was injured or killed in this incident, which had a wide community impact."
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, CSB 202-261-7642 / 202-577-8448 (cell), Sandy Gilmour, 202-251-5496 (cell) or Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell).