10 injured in explosion at Michigan chemical plant

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10 injured in explosion at chemical plant

Thursday, April 13, 2000

By Lisa Medendorp, Jeff Alexander, Lynn Moore and Michael G. Walsh CHRONICLE STAFF WRITERS

A blast "like a big bomb" ripped through an Egelston Township chemical plant Wednesday afternoon, injuring 10 people and raining debris on nearby businesses.

Lomac LLC, 5025 Evanston, was shut down after three-rapid fire explosions leveled the wastewater collection systems building, officials said. The huge blast occurred after a small explosion and then was followed by a third, smaller explosion.

Three of the injured people were Lomac employees. The others were employed by two contractors working at the site of the 1:11 p.m. blast.

Authorities said there was no "off-site" release of toxic chemicals and no fire.

The powerful explosion sent a large cloud of dust and debris into the air, said Norton Shores Fire Chief David Purchase, who acted as spokesman for fire departments on the scene.

The exact cause of the explosions are unknown, and remain under investigation. A team from the Michigan State Police Fire Marshal Division arrived at mid-afternoon as well as an investigator from the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services' Division of Occupational Health. Officials returned to the scene this morning.

Four employees of Northern Boiler & Mechanical Contractors of Muskegon were hospitalized. Three were sent to Mercy General Health Partners Sherman Campus. Randy Flanery was reported in fair condition this morning, and co-worker Jack Hoppus was listed in good condition. The third employee, Mario Flores, was released today.

One Lomac employee, Bob D. White, was reported in good condition at Mercy General today.

The fourth Northern Boiler employee, David Curtis, 41, was listed in critical condition this morning at Hackley Hospital.

Also at Hackley were Timothy Greening, 58, a Lomac employee, and Corey Simpson, of Grandville, an employee of Bertsch Instrumentation Technology of Grand Rapids. Simpson was listed in stable condition. Another person, a 46-year-old Lomac male employee, was admitted to Hackley in critical condition.

Two more people injured in the explosion arrived on their own at Mercy General after 6 p.m., were treated for injuries in the emergency room and went home, a hospital official said.

Simpson was in the plant working on an instrument when the explosion occurred, said Chuck Chenevert, vice president of specialty divisions for USFLOW, the parent company of Bertsch.

"They got a sniff of something just before it went off," Chenevert said he was told. "One of the guys from Northern Boiler sniffed something and said 'Let's get out of here.' "

Simpson was 20 to 30 feet from source of explosion, with his back turned, Chenevert said. He was thrown by the impact of the blast.

"It was pretty bad," Chenevert said. "When he got himself up and looked around there was nothing around ... One guy was buried under a bunch of debris and (Simpson) helped get the stuff of him so he could breathe.

"We're just lucky that he's here."

The accident halted all production at Lomac and it was not known when production might resume at the facility, company operations manager Brian Haick said Wednesday. Lomac officials were not answering phones this morning and could not be reached for comment.

Haick declined to comment about the plant's safety record, which has been marked by numerous accidents since Lomac bought the former Bofors-Lakeway facility in 1987.

Since 1990, there have been at least 17 incidents at Lomac involving explosions, uncontrolled releases of toxic clouds and workers illegally exposed to deadly chemicals.

Lomac produces an herbicide and a chemical used in ink pigments. The company employs 160 workers and is part of a trio of Cincinnati-based chemical manufacturers known as the PCL Group.

One of the company's two products is a suspected cancer-causing chemical known as 3,3 dichlorobenzidine. Lomac sells that chemical to neighboring Sun Chemical, which uses DCB to make pigments for printing inks.

Although several nearby residents and employees of other companies reported seeing a chemical or vapor cloud above Lomac after the explosion, authorities said it was only a dust cloud. No chemicals left the plant site, Purchase said.

Haick said the building that blew up housed holding tanks and piping for the wastewater system. The tanks contained wastewater and chemical residue, he said.

"(The workers) were installing some lines," Haick said. "The engineer who was handling the project was one of the people who was injured."

Jim Federighe, president of Northern Boiler, 2025 Latimer, said four of the blast victims were his employees. Each remains hospitalized.

"Obviously, it's not a very good day for us here," Federighe said this morning. "We're hoping for the best. We all work closely with these folks."

Company supervisors spent the night at area hospitals to support their employees and their families, but because of the severity of their injuries information about what happened is slim.

Federighe said his staff was performing maintenance work under the direction of Lomac plant engineers. He doesn't know precisely what they were doing when the blast erupted, Federighe said.

"Our concern is for the employees and their families," Federighe said. "Safety for us has always been a No. 1 priority and it's going to continue to be so."

Northern Boiler employs about 200 employees statewide. But the four injured in the Lomac blast made up its entire Muskegon staff, Federighe said. They are permanent workers whose job is to perform new construction or maintenance for various companies.

As firefighters arrived, they found three of the victims near the plant's front offices and four more in a parking lot near the building that blew up. The eighth victim was at the back of the blast site, partially buried by dirt and debris.

"I could tell he had an object that was impaled in his back and injuries to one of his arms," said Egelston Township Fire Lt. Randy Willea, one of the first to arrive.

Other Lomac employees had rushed to the scene and were already providing first aid to the victims, Purchase said. He praised Lomac employees who came to the aid of workers injured in the blast. "They did an excellent job of responding to a very difficult situation."

Hospital officials reported that injuries included abdominal injuries, abrasions, puncture wounds, lacerations and fractures.

The victims also suffered multiple bruises from being thrown and hitting the ground, they said.

At Hackley, physicians are worried that all four victims may have suffered hearing loss from the deafening sound of the explosion, said Gayle Miller, director of community relations.

In addition to aiding the victims, firefighters and hazardous materials team members also had to search the ruins to make sure everyone was accounted for. The blast "made a big crater," Willea said.

Steve Lague, team leader for Muskegon County's hazardous materials team, said a chunk of reinforced concrete from the building's basement ended up in the parking lot, through the hood of a pickup truck.

Willea also said an unknown amount of a cleaning solvent, believed to be toulene, spilled from a holding tank and that Lomac employees were able to shut it off.

Several employees of nearby businesses said they saw a cloud shoot up into the air, variously described as yellow and green, or yellow and dark gray. No injuries were reported at any of those businesses.

Employees at Eagle Alloy Inc., a foundry across the street from the chemical plant, felt the blast. "We had three or four spots where I-beams (from the explosion) ripped right through the roof," said James Misch, a maintenance worker. The blast "shook the floor and knocked the lights off the ceiling."

Misch said another employee told him he was walking out the door when the explosion occurred and "he saw pipes and pieces of I-beam fly over him into the woods."

Students at in nearby Oakridge schools were kept inside Wednesday afternoon as a precaution, authorities said.

Relatives of Lomac employees were told to go to the Egelston Township Hall to await word about who was injured. As soon as information became available from the scene, it was passed on to the waiting relatives.

Egelston Township Fire Chief Larry Hruskach said this morning a Muskegon company, Northern A1 Services, had arrived to inspect the blast site in order verify that there were no chemical leaks or other hazards so that investigators from the state police fire marshal division could begin their investigation.

In addition to Egelston and Fruitport township fire departments, firefighters from Norton Shores and Muskegon Township responded, along with Muskegon County's Hazardous Materials Team, Muskegon County Emergency Services personnel, the Muskegon County Sheriff's Department, Professional Med Team Ambulance and the canteen unit from Moorland Township


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 14, 2000


Neighbors angered by latest accident at chemical plant The Associated Press 4/13/00 6:57 PM

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Six of eight people injured in an explosion at a chemical factory in this Muskegon County community remained hospitalized Thursday.

Two of those hurt in Wednesday's blast at Lomac LLC were listed in critical condition, The Muskegon Chronicle reported. Three of the injured are Lomac employees; the rest are employed by contractors.

Tests showed there were no flammable or toxic vapors at the blast site, allowing the Michigan State Police Fire Marshal's Office to begin investigating the cause, the Egelston Township Fire Department said.

A series of three explosions occurred in a building that housed holding tanks and piping for the plant's wastewater treatment system, said Brian Haick, operations manager for Lomac.

Some neighbors complained that they were not told whether to evacuate their homes, and seldom get information from company or government officials when similar accidents occur in the industrial area.

"We've lived here going on 10 years, and there's been quite a few things going on out there. I never know how bad they are," Marian Short said.

In 1998, a worker's face and hair were burned when a fire burned through the roof of a building where Lomac produced a chemical used to make pigments in ink and paints.

http://aa.mlive.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/cgi-free/getstory_ssf.cgi? g9724_AM_MI--ChemicalExplosion&&news&michnews

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 14, 2000.

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