CSB Investigation Focuses on Ignition Source in CTA Acoustics Accident

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.

"We are now testing the temperature control equipment from the malfunctioning oven to determine why it failed," said

CSB lead investigator Bill Hoyle. "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 Feb. 20, 2003, an explosion and fire damaged the CTA Acoustics manufacturing plant, 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 Feb. 20, however, no one was present in the vicinity of the oven who could have detected a fire.

"This accident 1 year ago has led to one of the most significant and far-reaching CSB investigations to date," said CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt. "The tragedy at CTA resulted in deaths and serious injuries that everyone in industry, labor and government 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 used the opportunity to note that 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, N.C., and Huntington, Ind., 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 Jan. 29, 2003, at West Pharmaceutical Services in Kinston killed six workers and destroyed the facility.

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