One Year after Tragedy, CSB Investigation Focuses on Ignition Source, Hazard Awareness in CTA Acoustics Accident

February 20, 2004

(Washington, DC - February 20, 2004) One year after the deadly accident at CTA Acoustics in Corbin, KY, an investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) continues to focus on the explosion of a combustible dust cloud, ignited by flames that escaped through the open door of a malfunctioning natural gas-fired production oven. The door was left open in an attempt to regulate the temperature of the oven.

CSB lead investigator Bill Hoyle said, "We are now testing the temperature control equipment from the malfunctioning oven to determine why it failed. We are also examining why many CTA personnel were unaware of the catastrophic potential of resin dust that had accumulated on surfaces around the plant. Our final report should be ready for Board consideration this summer. We appreciate the cooperation we have been receiving from CTA."

On February 20, 2003, an explosion and fire damaged the CTA Acoustics manufacturing plant in Corbin, Kentucky, killing seven workers and injuring more than 30. The fire spread quickly over a wide area of the plant. The facility primarily produced fiberglass acoustic foam for the automotive industry, using a phenolic resin powder as a binder. The resin is similar in consistency to talcum powder. Earlier testing by the CSB determined that the resin powder is combustible and can explode when dispersed in air and ignited.

At a Board community meeting in Corbin last July, CSB investigators said the plant's four production lines had a history of small fires erupting near the ovens. Plant operators routinely put out these fires. During cleaning operations on February 20, however, no one was present in the vicinity of the oven who could have detected a fire.

CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said, "This accident one year ago has led to one of the most significant and far-reaching CSB investigations to date. The tragedy at CTA resulted in deaths and serious injuries that everyone Â? in industry, labor and government Â? wants to avoid. Our investigation and recommendations will help save lives in the future by getting industry managers to increase their focus on the insidious dangers of combustible dust."

Merritt noted that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have specific standards for controlling combustible dust hazards in many industrial facilities. National standards are in place for dust hazards in coal mines and grain handling facilities. As a result of the accident at CTA Acoustics and other fatal dust explosions in 2003 in Kinston, NC, and Huntington, IN, the CSB is also conducting a nationwide review of the number and severity of dust explosions at U.S. facilities in recent decades. The dust explosion January 29, 2003, at West Pharmaceutical Services in Kinston killed six workers and destroyed the facility.

In another Kentucky-related accident, the CSB will hold a public meeting in Louisville on March 12, 2004, to present the final investigation report on the April 2003 explosion at the D.D. Williamson & Co. caramel coloring plant. One worker was killed at the Louisville facility when a process vessel became over-pressurized and exploded. The vessel failure resulted in a secondary release of aqueous ammonia and caused extensive damage to the plant.

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 such events, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems. Typically, the investigations involve extensive witness interviews, examination of physical evidence, and chemical and forensic testing. 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. The Board designates formal responses to its recommendations as acceptable or unacceptable, open or closed. Further information about the CSB is available from

For more information, contact Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell) or Sandy Gilmour Communications, 202-261-7614 / 202-251-5496 (cell).

Back to news