The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced yesterday the results of their investigation into the Feb. 8, 2017 PCA explosion that claimed the lives of three men and injured seven others at the paper mill in DeRidder.

Sparks from nearby welding and hot work activity caused the atmosphere inside the tank to become flammable and explode, CSB Lead Investigator Jerad Denton said.

CSB found that the tank which exploded contained water and turpentine that had naturally floated to the top. PCA assumed the tank only contained water, and was properly sealed. This was not the case.

“The foul condensate tank presented a serious hazard,” Denton said. “Under normal conditions the tank is not explosive. On the day of the incident the atmosphere inside the tank became flammable.

“The tank was designed so that the turpentine could be skimmed from the top of the tank.”

The investigation revealed that the removal of the turpentine from the foul condensate tank was not taking place.

Denton said there was a clear lack of communication as to who was responsible for the tank, and a general lack of awareness of what was inside the tank.

“This is not the first time we have seen hot work accidents at a paper mill,” CSB Board Member Dr. Kristen Kulinowski said. “Explosive hot work accidents usually result in fatalities. We urge companies to review the safety guidelines highlighted in our PCA report.”

PCA has been fined $63,375 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for its hazardous practices. PCA, however, is currently contesting those fines and the case is still open.

OSHA claims PCA committed five safety violations in regards to the accident.
“The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to fire and explosion hazards,” OSHA’s official report reads. “On or about February 8, 2017 in the pulp mill at the foul condensate tank, the employer allowed employees to perform shutdown (maintenance) work on all or part of the non-condensable gas system where there was the presence of methanol and turpentine and flammable vapors, the employer did not isolate, drain and purge the tank.”

CSB does not issue citations or fines, but instead the board makes safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Our hope is to take the lessons learned from this tragedy and apply them so no other families have to endure this tragedy,” CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said. “Our goal is prevention of future incidents.”