January 12, 2023

New Reports Describe Findings from CSB Investigations of Three Incidents

New reports finalized by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in December detail the agency’s findings from investigations into three incidents: two that occurred in 2018 and one from 2019. The incidents include the fire at the Kuraray America Inc. EVAL plant in Pasadena, Texas, in 2018; the 2018 explosion and fire at the Husky Superior Refinery in Superior, Wisconsin; and the 2019 explosions and fires at the TPC Group Port Neches Operations facility in Port Neches, Texas. The three investigation reports are among six final reports completed by CSB between July and December of 2022. In a news release published last week, CSB Chairperson Steve Owens stated that the agency is seeking to reduce its “long-standing backlog in investigations reports.”

Twenty-three workers were injured during the 2018 fire at the Kuraray America Inc. EVAL plant in Texas. According to CSB’s report, the cause of the fire was the company’s “long-standing emergency pressure-relief system design that discharged flammable ethylene vapor through horizontally aimed piping into the air, near workers” who were performing tasks including welding, which the agency says most likely ignited the vapor. The incident occurred following a scheduled shutdown for maintenance, during the start-up of a chemical reactor system.

The 2018 explosion and fire at the Husky Superior Refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, happened as the refinery was shutting down its fluid catalytic cracking unit to perform planned maintenance, which CSB describes as a common refining process. The explosion and subsequent fire occurred during this time, releasing 39,000 pounds of flammable hydrocarbon vapor into the air. A portion of the city—including more than 2,500 residents—was evacuated, and 36 workers were injured. CSB’s final report on the incident indicates a number of safety concerns, including issues related to process safety management systems and emergency preparedness.

The series of explosions at the TPC Group Port Neches Operations facility in Texas in 2019 occurred after highly flammable butadiene released from the process unit when a piping section ruptured, CSB says. The explosions caused extensive damage to nearby homes and buildings as well as to the facility, including fires that burned for more than a month within the facility. Two employees and a contractor sustained minor injuries, and CSB notes that media reports indicate injuries among at least five local residents. The agency’s report can be found on its website.

In addition to these reports, CSB also published a new safety video in December. The video includes an animation of the events leading to the 2017 explosion at the Loy-Lange box company in St. Louis, Missouri. According to CSB, failures in the company’s policies, procedures, and operations, as well as an inadequate repair, led to the explosion of a pressure vessel. A worker died in the explosion, and the pressure vessel, which weighed 2,000 pounds, was launched into the air and through the roof of a laundromat 500 feet away, killing three members of the public.

All of CSB’s completed investigation reports can be found on the agency’s website.