Carbide Industries operates differently after fatal explosion - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Carbide Industries operates differently following fatal explosion

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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB Fox 41) -- Carbide Industries employees returned to work this week operating the plant in a much different way, following a fatal plant explosion.

The sign in front of the company reads "Phoenix Rising."  With it is a note in memory of Louie Medina and Steve Nichols, the workers who died in the March 21 blast.

"Three weeks ago was pretty devastating," says plant manager John Gant.  But he says the sign speaks to the company's current state -- acknowledging the loss while looking to move forward.

Gant says 130 workers returned to work focused on transitioning the plant from carbide production to carbide shipping.  The company's bringing in the product from countries such as Mexico, China, and Sweden to fill its orders.

Gant says, "In June we'll have 100 percent of our customers' requirements coming in drums, and it takes a lot of work to open them up, empty them, put them in the proper containers for our customers and ship them."

Gant says it is not a profitable solution  -- just a way to get by.  The furnace fire burned for a week and reduced the building to a charred shell.  "Our target is April 2012 to start it up."

On Tuesday Gant shared how timing is key.  A rebuild requires new permits and could cost tens of millions of dollars.  He says city leaders are aiding in the process:  "Economic incentives and I got a call into Greater Louisville, Inc."

Yet nothing moves forward until they find a cause to the explosion.  The Chemical Safety Board, OSHA, and arson investigators have all combed the scene but haven't released a report.

Fox 41 News has been told Carbide investigators will be on the ground in the next two weeks and the company has already ruled out arson and employee error.

Gant says, "We have educated guesses, but we have to know exactly what happened.  That's why we're bringing the external guys in. To make calcium carbide is a very simple process -- coke, lime and electricity in the furnace. We've been making it here since 1941 and never had an incident like this and when we start it back up the process will be the same, so we have to know what happened to prevent it from happening again."

The company did make some cuts, releasing six workers, since they're already overstaffed for their current demand.  Those workers started on the day of the explosion.

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