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Chem board to report on fatal Hancock plant fire

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer

Federal investigators have scheduled a meeting for mid-July to release their long-awaited findings of a probe of the December 2010 explosion and fire that killed three workers at a Hancock County metals recycling plant.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said the meeting would also include a public update on the board’s investigation of the Jan. 9 leak at Freedom Industries, an incident that contaminated the drinking water supply that serves 300,000 residents across the region.

Board members will hear presentations from agency staffers and will also set aside time for public comments, according to a meeting notice posted Friday on the Federal Register website.

The meeting will be at noon on July 16 in the ballroom at the Four Points Sheraton at 600 Kanawha Blvd. E., in Charleston.

Board staffers have been investigating the AL Solutions case for nearly 3½ years, but have yet to issue a formal report.

At its New Cumberland facility, AL Solutions processed titanium and zirconium, using what it called a “proprietary technology” to recycle these metals into “high-quality alloying additions to aluminum.”

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.

Last December, AL Solutions agreed to pay $100,000 in fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and $97,000 to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to resolve enforcement actions related to the incident.

In previous media briefings and interviews, the CSB has blamed the AL Solutions explosion and fire on a buildup of metals dust in the facility, and cited the deaths in New Cumberland as another example of the dangers of “combustible dust” in a variety of industrial settings. The CSB has repeatedly urged the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write nationwide rules for the control of explosive dust, but the Obama administration has repeatedly delayed any such action.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards and safety management systems. The board does not issue citations or levy fines.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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