CSB Team Focuses on Rubber Blending Area in North Carolina Explosion

January 30, 2003

(Kinston, NC - January 30, 2003, 7 p.m. Eastern) Following leads from more than one hundred witness interviews by federal investigators, experts from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board believe that Wednesday's deadly explosion at West Pharmaceuticals in Kinston, North Carolina, originated in an area of the plant where synthetic rubber compounds were processed and dried.

Investigators say the first explosion may have occurred in the Automated Compounding System (ACS), a unit of the plant where the rubber known as polyisoprene is mixed, rolled, coated, and dried. Oils and fillers are added to the rubber during this process, which is known to produce significant quantities of dust. Investigators are pursuing a theory that the massive explosion which led to the destruction of the plant was caused by an ignitable dust cloud. The explosion spawned fires throughout the plant and as far as two miles away.

According to CSB Board Member Dr. Andrea Taylor: "Our immediate priority is to complete our interviews of all witnesses and begin forensic testing of dust and other plant samples to determine combustibility. We will also work to identify the ignition source for the initial explosion. The plant site remains too hazardous to enter at this time. At present, there have been 3 confirmed fatalities and 20 persons hospitalized. Of the hospital cases, approximately half are critical or life-threatening injuries. The shockwave from the initial explosion broke windows up to 1000 feet away, and debris from the explosion was propelled up to two miles. The West Pharmaceuticals plant suffered massive damage, currently estimated at $150 million."

Background: Headquartered in Washington, DC, the CSB is the independent federal agency that determines root causes of chemical accidents and reports to the public. Authorized under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the Board is headed by five Presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed members, who are technical experts in chemical safety. The CSB does not issue fines or citations. The Board makes safety recommendations to prevent future accidents directed to industry, labor, and professional associations as well as EPA, OSHA, and other federal bodies. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.

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