Update on DeRidder explosion: CSB deploys investigative team - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Update on DeRidder explosion: CSB deploys investigative team

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DeRidder plant explosion DeRidder plant explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is deploying an investigative team to the scene of an explosion yesterday at the Packaging Corporation of America.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the CSB confirmed a similar incident at a Wisconsin PCA plant that was uncovered by KATC Investigates yesterday. 

“The CSB has investigated many hot work accidents across the country, including a 2008 explosion that killed three workers at a different PCA plant in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.” said Chairperson Vanessa Sutherland. “Hot work incidents are one of the most common causes of worker deaths we see at the CSB, but also one of the most readily preventable.”

A three-person investigative team is headed to the plant in DeRidder, the CSB says. 

According to initial reports, the explosion took place while contractors performed welding on a tank during a facility shut down. The explosion was powerful enough to cause the tank to fly and land in a different area of the plant, the release states. Welding is one of several types of “hot work” – or spark-producing operations - that can ignite fires or explosions. Most hot work incidents result in the ignition of combustible materials or the ignition of structures or debris near the hot work, the release states.

Following the deadly 2008 explosion at the PCA plant in Wisconsin, the CSB issued a safety bulletin on the hazards of welding and other hot work entitled “Seven Key Lessons to Prevent Worker Deaths during Hot Work In and Around Tanks.” The agency also released a safety video called “Dangers of Hot Work,” which presents the findings from that bulletin. 

“The CSB continues to be concerned about the frequency of dangerous hot work incidents and has added safe hot work practices to the agency’s Drivers of Critical Chemical Safety Change Program, a list of key chemical safety advocacy initiatives," Sutherland said.

The CSB is an independent federal agency whose mission is to drive chemical safety change through independent investigations to protect people and the environment. The agency’s board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical incidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

Earlier Thursday, the three men who died in the explosion were identified.

According to the Beauregard Sheriff's Office, the dead are: 

William Rolls Jr., 32; Jody L. Gooch, 40; and Sedrick Stallworth, 42.

A spokesman said Rolls is from Louisiana, but he's not certain which town. Gooch is from Texas. He said they have not been able to verify Stallworth's hometown. All three men were contractors working at the plant. 

A spokesman for State Police said that six of the seven people injured in the explosion have been released from hospitals. Those six sustained what authorities described as minor injuries. One person, who sustained moderate injuries, remains hospitalized Thursday, State Police said. 

A tank at the Packaging Corporation of America exploded Wednesday morning while three contractors were working on it, State Police said. 

PCA issued a statement late Wednesday: 

"At approximately 11:10 am CST, Wednesday, February 8th, there was an explosion at our DeRidder, LA paper mill. The incident involved annual repair work being performed on piping in the pulp mill area and resulted in three contractor fatalities. The cause of the incident is under investigation. 

Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the people working on our site.  The top priorities at this time are the notification of families of the deceased contractors and investigation of the incident with authorities.

At the time of the incident, the D1 machine was down for its annual outage and the D3 machine was running and continues to operate.  The current assessment indicates that the annual outage work is expected to be delayed by up to one week and the mill will then resume full operation.  Further information will be provided, as appropriate, when it becomes available."

By noon on Wednesday, the scene was under control now, but no information was available yet on what was in the tanks or what caused the explosion, Toler said.  Later Wednesday, State Police said the tank was 25 feet high, the fire was out, and there is no chemical hazard.

The Lake Forest-Illinois-based PCA acquired the old Boise paper mill in 2013. The plant is located on U.S. 190. 

Governor John Bel Edwards was in Washington D.C. Wednesday, and he gave an update on the situation to the delegates.  According to U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, the governor was "very concerned" about the situation and was getting frequent updates.  Higgins said they were scheduled to meet about the flood, so they also got an update on the explosion.  He said the governor said the situation apparently stemmed from a welding operation being done at PCA on a tank that contained wood chips.  The wood chips, when they deteriorate, create a flammable gas which ignited.

The incident appears similar to a 2008 CPA plant explosion in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, where three workers will killed and one injured.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigated the incident. They determined sparks from a welding operation atop a storage tank ignited flammable gas, which had been emitting from anaerobic bacteria inside the tank.

Feeding on the organic fiber waste inside the tank, "the bacteria likely produced hydrogen, a highly flammable gas," according to a safety bulletin released after the incident. 

At the time of the incident, "PCA supervisors and workers were unaware of the risks of flammable gas production from anaerobic bacteria growth," according to the CSB. "PCA did not perform a hazard analysis or recognize fiber waste tanks as potentially hazardous."

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