Safety Investigators Probe Explosion at New York City Building

Teams of local, state and federal investigators are on site in New York City this week, following up on an explosion that rocked the Chelsea area of the city on Thursday.

Teams of local, state and federal investigators are on site in New York City this week, following up on an explosion that rocked the Chelsea area of the city on Thursday.

The blast, which injured 42 people, some critically, sent people running for cover, fearing another terrorist attack. Investigators from the fire department believe that the explosion was caused when a spark from an electric pump being used by employees of Kaltech Industries Group, a sign manufacturer, to remove chemicals from a leaking drum ignited chemicals stored in the basement of the building. Investigators from the New York City Fire Department found more than 1,000 gallons of acids and flammable chemicals that they said were improperly stored.

The fire department issued four safety summons to the company on Thursday night. They include: illegal storage of flammable materials; illegal storage of paint; failing to have a permit for a basement compressor; and failure to have an employee with a fire department certificate of fitness to operate a compressor.

As a result of his department''s initial investigation, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta asked the Manhattan district attorney''s office to investigate if any criminal charges are warranted.

Michael Posner, an attorney for Kaltech, said the company had no immediate comment, adding, "Our concern goes out to the workers, their families and others who might have been injured."

Investigators from the area Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office were on the scene within 20 minutes of the explosion. OSHA spokesperson Kate Dugan acknowledged that the agency has begun an investigation, but said she would not discuss details until it was complete. She did admit that she expected the investigation could be "lengthy." According to Dugan, Kaltech has no history of OSHA violations.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation declared the building a hazardous waste site and hired Trade Winds Environmental Restoration Corp. of Bay Shore to remove any remaining chemicals.

Investigators from the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) are on site to determine whether hazardous materials were stored in the mixed-use building and how the safety of those materials was managed. The team includes CSB lead investigator Steve Selk, CSB Board Member Dr. Gerald V. Poje, and two additional investigators.

The CSB is an independent federal agency whose mission is to ensure the safety of workers and the public by preventing chemical incidents. The board determines the root causes of accidents, issues safety recommendations, and performs special studies on chemical safety issues.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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