CSB Deploying Investigation Team to Fatal Explosion at Kleen Plant

Search-and-rescue operations are expected to resume today at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, Conn., which was planned at a cost of almost $1 billion and would have been among the largest in New England, The Hartford Courant reported today and Sunday. The explosion occurred at 11 a.m. Sunday local time as workers purged a natural gas piping system, killing at least five workers. Searchers halted their work early Monday morning, saying the wreckage left after the explosion was unstable and unsafe.

CSB lead investigator Don Holmstrom said, “The CSB’s investigative team will examine the activities that were ongoing at the time of this accident, including any gas purging, as indicated by initial media reports.”

At a public meeting Feb. 4, CSB issued urgent recommendations that the national fuel gas codes be changed to improve safety when gas pipes are being purged during maintenance or the installation of new piping. The Board’s urgent recommendations resulted from CSB’s ongoing federal investigation into the June 9, 2009, natural gas explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim production facility in Garner, N.C., which caused four deaths, three critical life-threatening burn injuries, and other injuries that sent a total of 67 people to the hospital.

CSB issued a safety bulletin on gas purging in October 2009, because of the occurrence of multiple serious accidents during purging operations. Key safety lessons described in the bulletin included purging gases to a safe location outdoors away from ignition sources, evacuating non-essential workers during purging, using combustible gas monitors to detect any hazardous gas accumulations, and effective training for personnel involved in purging.

Holmstrom leads CSB’s Western Regional Office located in Denver and led the agency’s investigation into the 2009 purging accident at the ConAgra facility.

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