Worker dies in US chemical plant explosion

Article by Amanda Jasi

AN explosion at a chemical facility in Belle, West Virginia, US has killed one worker and injured three people.

The explosion and subsequent fire occurred at 22:00 local time on 8 December at a building owned by Optima Chemical, a tenant at a Chemours site in Belle. Optima is a global supplier of specialty chemicals, toll manufacturing services, and custom manufacturing. In toll manufacturing, a third-party company processes raw materials or semi-finished goods into finished goods for another company.   

Three chemical operators were in the facility at the time of the explosion, including the worker who died. The other two workers were treated for minor injuries at a local hospital and then released. According to news reports, a third person was injured by flying debris.

Following the incident, a shelter-in-place order was issued for people within a 3.2 km radius. The order affected 2,000 people, reports Reuters. The fire was brought under control by the early hours of 9 December and the shelter-in-place was lifted later that morning, according to NBC News.

Debris from the explosion was thrown more than 1.6 km from the explosion site, forcing a nearby highway and schools to close, says NY Times.

The cause of the explosion is yet to be determined but according to Optima, a preliminary investigation found that a 5,500 L metal dryer became over-pressurised during a chemical product drying operation. The substance involved was a chlorinated compound used for cleaning. Separately, Reuters reported that Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper told local television stations that officials believe that chlorinated dry bleach and methanol were involved in the explosion. Kent added that the County is not responsible for identifying the cause.

Optima says it is cooperating fully with local, state, and federal officials to investigate the incident. A detailed and thorough analysis will be conducted to determine the root cause.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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