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ConAgra Contractor Sued Over Plant Explosion

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By David Goguen on June 19, 2009 11:24 AM

A fatal explosion at a ConAgra plant in North Carolina may have been triggered by a gas leak from a water heater that was being installed at the facility. And a contracting company that was working on the natural gas lines at the plant is now facing lawsuits from victims of the explosion.

The June 9 explosion at ConAgra's "Slim Jim" production facility in Garner, North Carolina killed three employees and injured dozens more.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the federal agency that is investigating the explosion and its possible causes, is focusing on the installation of a new industrial water heater and gas line, work that was being performed at the time of the accident.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, CSB Investigation Supervisor Don Holmstrom said that the agency "is examining the possibility that gases inside the line were likely purged and vented directly into the pump room, in the interior of the building, leading to a flammable gas cloud and an explosion." Holstrom added that the ignition source for the explosion will be tough to identify.

Also this week, two injured ConAgra employees filed a lawsuit against Raleigh-based Southern Industrial Constructors, the company hired by ConAgra to perform work on the gas lines at the factory, according to the North Carolina News & Observer.

Tammie O'Neal, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, reported smelling gas on her way into work just hours before the explosion, which led to her suffering injuries to her leg, back and head while fleeing the building, the News & Observer reports.