CSB Releases Preliminary Findings in Kaltech Industries April 25, 2002, Explosion in New York - Cites Improper Mixing of Waste Chemicals, Lack of Workplace Safety Procedures

April 16, 2003

Public hearing includes NYC officials, fire code experts, and citizen groups discussing the need to update hazardous materials regulations in the city

(New York City - April 16, 2003) The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) today will present preliminary findings from an investigation into the April 25, 2002, explosion at Kaltech Industries, which injured 31 people seriously enough to seek hospital treatment, including 14 members of the public.

The findings are to be released in a public meeting in New York City not far from the site of the explosion, which occurred in the mixed-occupancy building at 123 19th Street.

Lead CSB investigator Steve Selk reports Kaltech employees improperly mixed hazardous waste chemicals in an operation that lacked basic safe handling procedures. "The investigation found the chemicals that most likely produced the explosion were nitric acid and lacquer thinner, which workers combined in a 55-gallon drum," Selk says. "An uncontrolled chemical reaction between the two materials produced significant amounts of gas or vapor that exploded within the basement, causing significant damage as high as the fifth floor."

"The Kaltech chemical explosion seriously injured many workers and members of the public and disrupted the lives of New Yorkers," according to CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt. "We are very concerned with any chemical accident that has a significant impact on the public. Our investigation can help prevent similar accidents in the future."

Mr. Selk told the five-member board in his report, "Kaltech did not maintain a list of chemicals in the workplace. The company did not provide its employees with required safety data sheets on the chemicals or train workers on the hazards of the chemicals. Apparently management was simply not aware of the federal safety regulations requiring those things."

Selk said the blast also caused a secondary fire by knocking over a drum of alcohol, which spilled and ignited, possibly by contact with nearby unapproved electrical equipment.

The CSB's preliminary findings indicate that Kaltech failed to follow a number of requirements of the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) which likely would have prevented the accident. However, the investigation found that OSHA had never inspected the company or its predecessor sign business in at least ten years.

Investigator Selk said that many cities and states institute their own codes on handling hazardous materials. Although New York City's fire regulations include various controls, Selk noted, "Other fire codes require that businesses maintain material safety data sheets, label all containers, and submit hazardous materials management plans before permits are issued. These codes parallel federal OSHA regulations, and they afford local inspectors the authority to enforce safe practices."

The Board was scheduled to hear testimony from New York officials and fire code experts on the possible need for the city to modify its codes to reduce the hazards from industrial chemicals.

Chairman Merritt said: "Despite federal, state, and local regulations already on the books, in this case a small business was able to handle large volumes of hazardous waste without following effective safety practices. We hope our findings ultimately can help local authorities get the regulatory and enforcement tools they need to ensure safe chemical handling."

A number of community groups, business associations, worker safety advocates and others were expected to comment on the issue at the hearing, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology, 8th Avenue and 27th Street, 8th Floor.

The CSB is an independent federal agency established in 1998 with the mission to protect workers, the public, and the environment by investigating and preventing chemical accidents. The CSB determines the root causes of these accidents and makes safety recommendations to government agencies, companies, and other organizations. The CSB does not issue fines or citations or apportion responsibility for accidents.

For more information visit www.csb.gov or contact Sandy Gilmour Communications 202-251-5496 (cell) or Daniel Horowitz, 202-345-4960 (cell).


Back to news