US urged new safety standards days before Middletown explosion
The US Chemical Safety Board, citing seven instances where workers died purging gas lines, released urgent new recommendations just three days before the Middletown explosion in Connecticut Sunday that killed at least five people.
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The Chemical Safety Board was created by the Clean Air Act revision of 1990, in part as a response to the Bhopal disaster, in which thousands of people died after toxic gas was released from a pesticide plant in India in 1984. Patterned after the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency has investigatory but no enforcement power. Still, the group has a “bully pulpit” to advocate for changes in safety codes with code-making and regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, says Mr. Gilmour.Skip to next paragraph
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The massive explosion caused serious structural damage to the approximately 87,000 square foot facility. About two-thirds of the roof collapsed or became unstable and the explosion damaged piping connected to the plant’s large ammonia-based refrigeration system, releasing some of the toxic gas. The cause of the explosion was improper purging of natural gas by a contractor. The report found the employees used their sense of smell to determine if the job was complete.
Other purging incidents cited by the CSB include a natural gas explosion in May 2008 during the construction of a 30-story Hilton Hotel in San Diego, Calif., that injured 14 workers, and a February 1999 explosion at the Ford Rouge power plant in Dearborn, Mich., that killed six workers and injured 38.
Last week, the CSB went to Raleigh, N.C., to present their case to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to adopt the new regulations. They will also present their recommendations to the American Gas Association and the International Code Council.
Christina Sames, vice president of safety and operations for the AGA, says she has not had a chance to review the entire CSB report, but will. "The code is already pretty clear," she says. "But if changes have to be made to make it even better, we will work with the NFPA."
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