Authorities said the blast, which occurred at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 7, most likely was a natural gas explosion. According to authorities and media reports, search and rescue teams are on site working to locate other possible victims. Names of the deceased have not yet been released.
The Office of Middletown Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano issued a release explaining that multiple contractors were on site at the time of the explosion, which created confusion surrounding exactly how many employees were on site. The mayor’s office also announced that testing was occurring Feb. 7, which meant the plant was not fully on line at the time of the explosion.
Mayor Giuliano assured the public that the incident did not pose a public health threat; that air quality and public drinking water supplies were not compromised; and that terrorism is not suspected.
The Red Cross set up a family and victim crisis intervention site at City Hall, located at 245 DeKoven Drive, and established a family information hotline number: 1-860-347-2577.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is deploying a seven-person team to the site to investigate the incident.
“The CSB’s investigative team will examine the activities that were ongoing at the time of this accident, including any gas purging, as indicated by initial media reports,” said CSB lead investigator Don Holmstrom.
At a public meeting only 3 days before the explosion, CSB issued urgent recommendations that the national fuel gas codes be changed to improve safety when gas pipes are being purged – cleared of air – during maintenance or the installation of new piping. CSB’s urgent recommendations resulted from the ongoing federal investigation into the June 9, 2009, natural gas explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim production facility in Garner, N.C., which caused four deaths, three critical life-threatening burn injuries and other injuries that sent a total of 67 people to the hospital.
CSB issued a safety bulletin on gas purging in October 2009, because of the occurrence of multiple serious accidents during purging operations. Key safety lessons described in the bulletin included purging gases to a safe location outdoors away from ignition sources, evacuating non-essential workers during purging, using combustible gas monitors to detect any hazardous gas accumulations and effective training for personnel involved in purging.
CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards and safety management systems.