Maintenance failures behind Synthron blast - CSB

31 July 2007 18:17  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The January 2006 fatal explosion at a Synthron plant in North Carolina was due to inadequate company safety management, including a 30-year failure to properly clean and maintain process equipment, US officials said on Tuesday.


The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said in its final report on the 31 January 2006 accident that the ultimate cause of the explosion - which killed one worker and injured 14 others - was that “the company’s management of reactive chemical hazards was inadequate and that the facility was unprepared for a chemical process emergency.”


The board also cited “ineffective corporate oversight by French parent company Protex International.”


The blast destroyed the Synthron facility at Morganton, North Carolina, and caused damage to homes and a church within 600 yards (549 metres) of the explosion.


Synthron, a manufacturer of acrylic polymers used as paint and coatings additives, filed for bankruptcy protection in the wake of the accident, and its production facility has not been rebuilt.


The safety board said that the accident occurred when plant managers tried to fill an order for acrylic polymer that exceeded the normal batch size. “Instead of making two smaller batches to fill the order, managers decided to make a single, larger batch,” the board said.


“Managers decided to add all the extra acrylic monomer during the first stage of the reaction process, which was a critical mistake,” the board said. 


Increasing the batch size raised heat output from the reaction by more than 200%, the safety panel said, and exceeded the cooling capacity of the unit. “The reaction accelerated out of control or ‘ran away’,” the board said.


Solvent vapour leaked from the overheated and over-pressurised process reactor, forming a flammable vapour cloud inside the building that ignited, the board said.


“Synthron had apparently never documented the actual capacity of the cooling equipment, which was essential to keeping reactions from running out of control,” the board said.


“The CSB found no evidence that the company had ever cleaned or inspected the cooling water side of the condenser on the reactor for 30 years,” the final report said.

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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