REPORT: Carbide Industries ignored warning signs and tolerated - WDRB 41 Louisville News

REPORT: Carbide Industries ignored warning signs and tolerated failure

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Workers turned in 26 repair requests on a problem furnace before a blast that killed two workers at a Rubbertown plant -- that's part of a new report by federal investigators that says Carbide Industries ignored warning signs and tolerated failure.

The electric arc furnace was the source of the explosion at Carbide Industries.

Rafael Moure-Eraso, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman, said Thursday, "It is clear that Carbide displayed a chronic lack of commitment to figuring out what was going wrong."  The board says Carbide ignored red flags.

Federal investigators laid out two possible causes for the March 2011 explosion.  They both paint the picture of a "perfect storm" -- that water leaks on the electric arc furnace cover caused a buildup and chemical reaction in the furnace that triggered the blast.

As Johnnie Banks, the lead investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board put it, "Additionally, Carbide Industries issued 26 work orders for water leaks on the furnace cover, but the facility chose to continue operating." 

Investigators say Carbide tried to use oats and a boiler solution to patch the holes, with plans to install a new furnace cover later in the year.

The plant had similar explosions in 1991 and 2004.  Banks says, "This means workers were housed in a room 12 feet from a 4100-degree furnace that had a known history of releasing burning hot material into the surrounding area."

Carbide employees Steve Nichols Jr. and Jorge Louie Medina died in this blast.  Greg Kilgore and another employee were hurt.  Kilgore has since gone back to work and says now the company has, "Safety meetings all the time and everything is new. Most of everything is new. And if anything breaks down, it's immediately fixed. Everybody's working together to keep the company going."

Meanwhile, the CSB is issuing two safety recommendations for the National Fire Protection Association and Carbide.

Moure-Eraso says those are, "Removing the control rooms from the line of fire and have a system to respond to things that we know can cause catastrophic failures before they become a catastrophe."

The Chemical Safety Board is hosting a public forum tonight at 6:30 at the Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville to present its finding.  People will be able to have their questions about the explosion answered.

Carbide officials say the company has addressed the CSB's safety recommendations and implemented further safeguards to better protect the plant and the surrounding community.

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