Two dead after explosion at Rubbertown chemical plant

Published: Mar. 21, 2011 at 9:52 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2011 at 9:43 AM EDT
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Ambulance arriving at University Hospital with victims for chemical plant explosion
Ambulance arriving at University Hospital with victims for chemical plant explosion

Posted by Charles Gazaway - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Two of the four people hurt in a March 21 explosion and fire at chemical plant in Louisville's Rubbertown neighborhood have died.

According to Jefferson County deputy coroner Sam Weakley, 59-year-old Steven Nichols of Charlestown, IN died at 6:45 p.m. at University Hospital.  A second person died later, but the Jefferson County Coroner's Office cannot release any additional information on the second person, pending notification of family.

Crews were called to the Carbide Industries plant at 4400 Bells Lane around 5:40 p.m. on a report of an explosion. Once on the scene, fire commanders declared the incident a Level 2 HazMat, one step down from the most serious hazardous material incident level. Firefighters say the chemical involved was calcium carbide.

David McArthur, a spokesperson for University Hospital, says four people were brought there for treatment; two of them suffering from burns. McArthur says two of the injured were treated and released. The third remained hospitalized.

Although an all-clear was given late Monday, a second explosion rocked the plant around 11 p.m. Monday, and it was caused by a different kind of chemical.

"It was mineral oil," said Jody Meiman, the assistant fire chief at Lake Dreamland Fire Department. "That did burn itself out through the night. We were able to get into the area somewhat close with some dry powder extinguisher. We were able to get in there, and it was effective in some areas, but not effective in others. Again, the fire is starting to diminish quite significantly inside the building compared to what it was during the night."

Fire crews remained on the scene early Tuesday, fighting small pockets of fire burning inside the plant.  Firefighters and officials from Carbide Industries stress there is no danger to people in neighborhoods near the plant.

Authorities say an earlier report of a hazardous materials warning for persons living in the area was sent in error and there was never a need for plant neighbors to stay indoors, shut off air conditioning or keep windows closed.

LMPD initially sent an alert asking media outlets to tell residents to stay inside because of the potentially dangerous chemical. LMPD spokesman Dwight Mitchell said their officers were first on the scene and sent out the alert.

"That is always the first piece of advice until you can find the rest of the information," said Doug Hamilton, director of Louisville Metro's Emergency Management Agency.

It was later determined by the Metro Health Department that the chemical from the first explosion (calcium carbide) wasn't a risk to residents. Fire officials say they knew that from the start and an alert should not have been issued.

"No fire department or incident command called for that alert. All that smoke was just coming from spot and grass fires," said Lake Dreamland Assistant Chief Jody Meiman.

Among city officials at the scene was Mayor Greg Fischer.

"That's why I'm down here," Fischer said. "We will be getting all the info tonight.

John Gant, general manager of the Carbide Industries plant, said that in the future, neighbors shouldn't be too scared about what comes from their plant.

"We don't store hazardous chemicals on site so neighbors concerns don't apply, but I understand their concern," Gant said.

Mayor Fischer was set to hold a news conference Tuesday morning to talk about the city's response to the explosion.

An autopsy was planned for Tuesday to determine the exact cause of Nichols' death.

Copyright 2011 WAVE News. All rights reserved.