(Washington, DC - March 21, 2001): The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has dispatched a second investigative team to the site of a fatal explosion at a Georgia plastics manufacturing facility. The team will carry on work begun shortly after the incident by a CSB preliminary assessment team. The blast early on the morning of March 13 left three dead at the BP Amoco Polymers plant in Augusta. The explosion initiated a secondary chemical fire that took five hours to bring under control.
The incident occurred during maintenance operations on equipment used to produce Amodel, a high-temperature plastic used in automobile parts. Workers were unbolting a five-foot cover plate from a process vessel when the explosion occurred. Two workers were killed instantly, and a third was pronounced dead later. The first CSB team arrived within twenty-four hours of the event.
According to the CSB investigators, the vessel was used to collect process wastes during the startup and shutdown of the polymer production line. On this occasion, production was shut down after an abortive start-up attempt. Preliminary evidence indicates the vessel may have contained process materials that continued to react together generating pressurized steam. Workers were evidently unaware of the accumulated pressure when they began unbolting the cover plate. The violent rupture shifted the nine-foot vessel, bent six-inch pipes, and sent the cover plate flying.
"Clearly the startup and shutdown of processes can introduce unforeseen hazards. Our immediate priority is to understand the source of the pressure in the vessel and determine why workers had no warning of the imminent danger," said Board Member Dr. Andrea Kidd Taylor. "At present, the investigation is examining the overall process design, the company's hazard evaluation process, and the adequacy of procedures. This incident may prove to involve an unanticipated reactive chemical hazard," Taylor said, noting that the CSB already has underway a special study of such hazards.