Local News
8:28 am
Thu February 7, 2013

Update: Carbide Ignored Warning Signs Before March 2011 Explosion in Rubbertown

A hole in Carbide's furnace
Credit Gabe Bullard / WFPL News

The federal Chemical Safety Board says Carbide Industries ignored warning signs and could have prevented a deadly explosion at a plant in Louisville two years ago.

Today, the CSB released the results of its investigation into the March 2011 furnace explosion at Carbide's Rubbertown facility that killed two workers and injured two others. (Read the report here.)

The exact cause of the blast is unknown, but the CSB says the A-Class Electric Arc Furnace — one of few such furnace in America and one of the largest — had problems. Problems including a history of cooling water leaks, which blew hot gases into the second floor of the building, where the furnace control room stood. Previous blasts had blown out the windows of the control room, which is 12 feet from the furnace. While Carbide put thicker glass in the room, the CSB says the company could have simply moved the entire operation.

“This means that workers were housed in a control room 12 feet from a 4,100 degree furnace that had a known history of releasing burning-hot materials into the surrounding area,” says lead CSB investigator Johnnie Banks.

Update: Here's a statement from the company: "Carbide Industries has been supportive of the CSB’s investigation since the incident occurred and has addressed all of the recommendations made by the CSB as a result of that investigation.  Additional safeguards and policies have been implemented that will further strengthen the safety and environmental performance at Carbide Industries.  We appreciate the help and support that the CSB has provided over the past two years."

The CSB also found that workers had issued 26 work orders for leak repair.

“Carbide displayed a chronic lack of commitment to figuring out what was going wrong, ignoring all the warning signs, even as workers were exposed to a potential massive explosion just a few feet away from their control room,” says CSB chair Rafael Moure-Eraso.

CSB Chair Rafael Moure-Eraso and Lead Investigator Johnnie Banks
Credit Gabe Bullard / WFPL News

The CSB has made a number of recommendations for Carbide and for the National Fire Protection Association. They’ll vote on those recommendations tonight, at a public meeting at the Seelbach Hotel.

“In my view, a national standard adopted by industry and incorporated into state and federal requirements would go a long way to prevent the kind of tragedy that befell the workers of Carbide Industries.”

Eboni Cochran of Rubbertown Emergency ACTion believes the situation is similar at other Rubbertown plants, and the Carbide report shows the need for regulations aimed at keeping workers and residents safe.

“I think it's a lackadaisical approach, of, 'Well, you live near a chemical facility, there are going to be odors, there are going to be malfunctions. But the reality of it is, we can be kept safer,” she says.