The U.S. Chemical Safety Board believes either metal shavings or dust were the source of an explosion that killed three men in a West Virginia factory, but the investigator in charge said his team has yet to determine which form ignited or how.
‘Unfortunately, we have not found that thing that gives us the right answer at this point,” said chief investigator Jeff Wanko.
Wanko said his team will return to AL Solutions in New Cumberland next week to interview and re-interview at least nine managers and employees and learn about procedures and training for handling hazardous materials.
AL Solutions recycles titanium and zirconium, and the victims were processing both when the blast happened Dec. 9. Killed were brothers Jeffery Scott Fish and James Fish, both of New Cumberland, and co-worker Steven Swain of Weirton.
The CSB, which is collaborating in the investigation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, tries to find out more than just what happened the day of the accident, Wanko said. It also looks into how industries and companies manage and control known hazards, so the team wants to learn about AL Solutions’ safety procedures and how well employees understood the dangers of the materials they handled.
AL Solutions is cooperating with the investigation, he said, and the Northern Panhandle plant remains closed.
OSHA is ‘still relatively early in the investigation” as well and has not yet cited AL Solutions for any violations, said Prentice Cline, area director in Charleston. OSHA has six months to complete its investigation and is ‘bringing all the resources that are appropriate to bear” to the job, he said.
Wanko said his team has also scheduled a private meeting with the families of the victims for Feb. 2 at the Hampton Inn in Steubenville, Ohio, where they will outline the agency’s role and responsibility.
‘Of course, some people expect the CSB to say a facility should be shut down, and that is not our role at all,” he said. Rather, the agency investigates what went wrong and tries to provide guidance that could prevent similar accidents.
To do that, the team will also visit an AL Solutions facility in Washington, Mo., the week of Feb. 15 to see what the New Cumberland facility might have looked like before the blast. The Missouri factory handles only titanium, shipping it to West Virginia for further processing.
Investigators will also do lab tests on the materials found in the New Cumberland factory.
‘What remains to be seen is how flammable it is, how easily ignited it is and then once it does ignite, how quickly does it propagate,” Wanko said. ‘… As far as we know, the company has not done that kind of testing, so we need to do that and are doing that with OSHA.
‘Those two materials were found in abundance, and we’ve not found anything else that could really propagate this explosion through that building,” he said.
The CSB expects to finish gathering evidence by March so that it can return to another investigation that’s been put on hold.
Wanko said it will likely be several months before any report is issued.