LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It didn't have to happen. That's what the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has ruled after investigating the 2011 explosion at Carbide Industries in Rubbertown.
Jorge "Louie" Medina, 56, and Steven Nichols, 59, died a day after the March 21, 2011 explosion of a 4000 degree furnace. Two more workers were injured at the company on Bells Lane.
The CSB said there were several factors and a lot that could have been done, but overall Carbide created an environment that accepted the issues rather than fixing them.
"Management allowed the equipment to run to failure," said lead investigator Johnnie Banks.
Carbide melts down hazardous chemicals in the unique furnace. At the time of the explosion, only glass separated it from the workers in the control room. In 1991 and 2004, there were explosions that blew out that glass. The company replaced it with a double pane, but the workers were not moved as CSB has since suggested.
"Workers were housed in a control room 12 feet from a 4100 degree furnace that had a known history of releasing burning hot material into the surrounding area," said Banks.
Water was also leaking into the furnace through cracks and holes that weren't fixed. When mixed with the chemicals inside, it produced too much gas.
"Rather than replacing the furnace cover, the company directed workers to attempt to repair by adding a mixture of oats and boiler solder to the cooling water."
It's a practice the CSB says is not common.
Twenty-six maintenance orders were issued to fix the leaks in the four months leading up to the deaths. CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said Carbide created an environment that tolerated the issues as long as no one was hurt and they say that is the first thing that must change. "The deaths of workers really cannot simply be one of the cost of doing business. We should be investing money on doing the necessary changes to avoid these types of tragedies to happen."
The CSB asked the National Fire Protection Association who overseas Carbide to set a safety standard for how to deal with the issues that created the explosion.
In a statement from Carbide they say, "Carbide Industries has been supportive of the CSB's investigation since the incident occurred and has addressed all of the recommendations made by the CSB as a result of that investigation. Additional safeguards and policies have been implemented that will further strengthen the safety and environmental performance at Carbide Industries. We appreciate the help and support that the CSB has provided over the past 2 years."
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