CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Hancock County metals recycling plant where three workers died in a December explosion stored combustible materials near open flames and had an inadequate system for detecting flammable gases, federal investigators have concluded.
The AL Solutions Inc. plant in New Cumberland also was equipped with a water-based sprinkler system that would actually have caused an explosion if used to try to douse a fire involving the metals being processed at the site, according to citations issued by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA officials issued citations for one willful violation, 16 serious violations and one other-than-serious violation -- and fines of $154,000 -- last week, and then announced the move in a news release Tuesday.
"This tragedy could have been prevented," OSHA chief David Michaels said in the release. "It is imperative that employers take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment."
AL Solutions recycles titanium and zirconium for use in the metals industry.
At about 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2010, brothers Jeffrey Scott Fish, 39, and James E. Fish, 38, and Steven Swain, 27, were working inside a reinforced concrete building where the recycling process is located. An explosion ripped through the building. The Fish brothers died at the scene, and Swain died later at a Pittsburgh hospital.
U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigators have said the concrete building was added to the plant in 1995, after a propane explosion killed a worker. Another death at the plant, in 2006, occurred in a different part of the facility.
OSHA alleged in one serious citation that the plant's production building had no system to limit the pressure buildup from the explosion of hydrogen gas produced during the blending and pressing of titanium and zirconium, or in the event of a fire.
According to another serious OSHA citation, the building's gas monitoring system allowed for samples to be diluted, making it ineffective in detecting a buildup of explosive hydrogen.
OSHA also alleged that the company's warehouse contained several hundred barrels of flammable metals stored in unsafe conditions, such as near open flames and in un-vented containers.