The blast occurred as a cutting torch was being used near a tank of methanol, a highly flammable chemical commonly known as wood alcohol. The men were performing maintenance activities at the facility.
"This was a serious incident involving the tragic loss of life at a government-owned facility where work activity is not overseen by any government entity," CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said. "The wastewater treatment worksite was not subject to any outside safety inspections or regulations, a situation that is common in many states. We want to find out whether that was a factor in this accident and then decide what should be done about it."
At the time of the accident, workers were repairing damage done by hurricanes in the area last year.
"We have found evidence of a deflagration that is, a moderate-size explosion inside a tank of methanol which resulted in the failure of pipes leading to the tank," CSB lead investigator Robert Hall said Jan. 13. "This in turn led to the total release of liquid methanol. We are investigating the precise ignition source, which appears to be related to the sparking from a cutting torch in use nearby."
CSB recommendations specialist Jordan Barab, who has special knowledge of health and safety issues related to municipal employees, accompanied the investigation team to the site. Barab noted that in over half of the states, including Florida, OSHA regulations do not apply to public employees' workplaces.
"Some states have laws that provide some coverage to public employees," Barab said. "Florida was one of those, until it abolished its Division of Safety in 2000. As Chairman Merritt said, we need to look into the potential link between this accident and the lack of regulations affecting the worksite."