CSB Releases Findings from Fatal Daytona Beach Wastewater Plant Explosion Investigation at Public Meeting; Cites Inadequate Engineering, Lack of Public Worker Safety Coverage

December 14, 2006

Daytona Beach, FL, December 14, 2006 - At a public meeting here today, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) will release preliminary findings and hear testimony from experts regarding the January explosion that killed two municipal employees at the Bethune Point Wastewater Plant.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Daytona Beach Resort & Conference Center, Tides A Meeting Room, 2700 North Atlantic Avenue. CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt will preside, accompanied by the other four Board members. Following the presentations by investigators and panelists, the Board will ask for public comments on the issues raised by the case.

On January 11, 2006, two municipal workers died and another was seriously injured while using a cutting torch to remove a steel roof over a storage tank containing highly flammable methyl alcohol (methanol) at the Bethune Point Wastewater Plant, owned and operated by the City of Daytona Beach.

Methanol vapors coming from the tank vent were ignited by the torch used on the roof above. The flame then flashed back into the storage tank, causing an explosion inside the tank that led to multiple piping failures and a large fire that engulfed the tank and workers.

At the public meeting, the CSB investigative team will present key findings from the ongoing investigation. The team, led by Robert Hall, P.E., found that the City of Daytona Beach has no program to control hot work, such as welding or high-temperature cutting, at city facilities nor does the city require work plan reviews to evaluate the safety of non-routine tasks.

The team also found that the storage tank did not comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Code 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code. The piping and valves attached to the tank were plastic (PVC) instead of steel, and they fractured after the initial explosion.

"If the facility had ensured that the tank complied with NFPA 30 by using steel piping and valves, this accident likely would not have resulted in the two fatalities. Plastic piping should not have been used for this process," said Investigator Hall.

Another investigation finding is that the tank's flame arrester - a safety device that prevents ignition inside a tank from an external fire - had not been inspected or cleaned since its installation in 1993. The flame arrester was constructed from aluminum, a metal that is not recommended for methyl alcohol service. By the time of the accident, the flame arrester was badly corroded and did not prevent flames from entering the tank and causing an explosion.

At the public meeting, an expert panel will discuss the issue of worker safety regulations for Florida state and municipal employees. The panel will have representation from the Florida Section of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and the American Society of Safety Engineers.

The CSB investigation team found that since 2000 no Florida state laws or regulations exist to require municipalities to communicate chemical hazards to municipal employees. Florida municipalities are not covered by OSHA workplace safety standards, and no state or federal oversight of public employee safety exists in Florida.

The expert testimony will be considered as the CSB develops new safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future. The final report and recommendations are expected to be released in early 2007.

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, regulations, and industry standards.

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. For more information, please visit CSB.gov.

For more information, contact CSB Director of Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Horowitz, (202) 441-6074 (cell); Sandy Gilmour (202) 251-5496 (cell); or Jennifer Jones (202) 577-8448 (cell).


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