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First Fed Investigation Results on Middletown Explosion

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on February 26, 2010 1:30 PM

The initial findings of a little known federal agency, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, were released yesterday regarding the gas explosion in Middletown, Connecticut, on February 7, 2010. According to a comprehensive report by the Hartford Courantthe Chemical Safety Board found 400,000 cubic feet of gas was released into the air in a tight area behind the Kleen Energy building. The congested area likely slowed the dissipation of the gas which was ignited by a still unidentified source.

According to the Courant, Donald Holmstrom, lead investigator of the CSB, said that the accumulated gas was enough to fill a basketball arena. Holmstrom and the CSB are focusing their investigation on identifying what rules, regulations and codes can be used to make these "gas blows" safer. As he told a press conference, "In the meantime, we strongly caution national gas power plants and other industries against the venting of high pressure natural gas in or near work sites. This practice, although common, is inherently unsafe."

Although the gas from the purge of the pipeline was released outside the building as preferred by safety experts, the gas pooled in the area behind the main power building where crews continued working. The cause of the explosion is still unknown, but much of the work going on such as welding and grinding, or even radio transmissions or static electricity, could have caused the ignition of the gas. As noted in a prior post, the lack of communication to the workers regarding the gas purge was claimed in some worker's lawsuits as a contributing factor to the circumstances leading to the blast. 

The Courant reports that the Chemical Safety Board was not initially permitted on the site because it is not a law enforcement agency. It took days of negotiations between state and federal officials and Congressional representatives before the Board was allowed to begin its probe. Although the recommendations of the Board can not result in criminal penalties, its recommendations can carry a significant impact in changing fire and building codes.

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