Washington, DC, March 30, 2006 - The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) today released a video report describing events leading to the August 2004 ethylene oxide explosion at Sterigenics International Inc. in Ontario, California. The ten-minute video was posted on CSB.gov and is also being provided on a free DVD containing all seven CSB safety videos.
Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical products after they are placed in large stainless steel chambers. The explosion shattered the windows of the control room which overlooked the operation, injuring four workers.
The video includes a detailed computer animation sequence depicting normal operation of the sterilizing process, in which the highly explosive gas is properly removed from the chamber. It then depicts events on the day of the accident when personnel bypassed a critical stage of gas removal, resulting in a powerful explosion when the ethylene oxide was ignited by a pollution control device called a catalytic oxidizer.
The video includes a description of the accident narrated by CSB Lead Investigator Randy McClure. Investigations Manager Stephen Selk discusses lessons learned from the accident, including the importance of strengthening or eliminating control room windows and the need for regular training on process hazards for personnel authorized to override automatic systems.
CSB Board Member John Bresland notes in the video that catalytic oxidizers are commonly used for air pollution control but have been the source of many explosions. Citing CSB recommendations from the Sterigenics investigation report, Mr. Bresland urges facilities to use multiple layers of protection, including gas monitoring equipment that can warn of explosive mixtures in chambers.
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, contact Sandy Gilmour 202-261-7614 or 202-251-5496 (cell) or Public Affairs Specialist Lindsey Heyl 202-261-3614 or cell 202-725-2204.