CSB Completes Key Testing of W. Va. Propane Explosion

On the first anniversary of a fatal propane explosion at a West Virginia convenience store, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board yesterday announced that testing has been completed on a key propane valve and outlined other issues that will be examined in the final investigation report. The incident on Jan. 30, 2007, at the Little General Store in Ghent killed four people and injured six others when propane gas was suddenly released through a liquid withdrawal valve during a changeover between two propane tanks. A volunteer firefighter and an EMT who responded to reports of the leak were among those killed when the propane cloud ignited, destroying the store.

The CSB has examined and tested the valve and found that on the day of the accident the valve was stuck in an open position. Investigators are continuing their examination of regulatory and code compliance as well as West Virginia's gas safety practices.

"This investigation is about more than figuring out what went wrong with the valve, it is about getting to the root cause of this accident and preventing a similar incident from occurring," said CSB Lead Investigator Jeffrey Wanko, P.E., C.S.P. He added that the placement of the propane tank--which was not 10 feet from the building, as NFPA and OSHA siting specifications require--facilitated gas entering the building and the ignition of the flammable gas, contributing to the number of injuries and fatalities.

Investigators believe personnel involved in the installation of a new propane tank at the store removed a metal screw cap on the liquid withdrawal valve, in preparation for removing propane from the old tank. The malfunctioning withdrawal valve leaked, resulting in an uncontrollable release. A technician involved was unable to stop the flow and placed a 9-1-1 emergency call at 10:40 a.m.

CSB investigators found that in common with many states, West Virginia does not require technicians who install propane tanks to receive any formal training. The CSB is also examining the practices of 9-1-1 emergency call centers to provide basic emergency instructions for flammable gas incidents such as proper evacuation procedures. In this instance, Little General employees stayed in the building during the gas release.

The CSB's final report and safety recommendations are expected to be complete in mid-2008. The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. For more information, visit www.csb.gov, or contact Director of Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Horowitz, (202) 261-7613, or Public Affairs Specialists Hillary Cohen at (202) 261-3601, or Jennifer Jones at (202) 261-3603.

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