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Static Electricity Behind Upstate New York Plant Explosion Left One Dead and 125 Injured


Investigators have determined that static electricity set off an explosion at an upstate New York cosmetics plant that left one dead and injured 125 others.

According to the Orange County Fire Investigation Unit, the static electricity ignited a flammable liquid inside the Verla International plant in New Windsor, New York, resulting in the November 20th explosion.

The initial blast occurred around 10: 15 a.m.  That was followed by a second explosion around 10:40 a.m.

Chemical Ignited as Worker Attempted to Wipe Up Excess Product

The liquid has been identified as hexamethyldisiloxane, or HMDZ.

“One of the workers had been on the scene and there was product on the table and he was using a rag to wipe the product and that, through a static electric charge, ignited the vapors in the room and caused the fire,” Orange County Fire Coordinator Vini Tankasali said during a November 29th news conference.

Surveillance footage of the incident shows that the unidentified worker was engulfed in flames. Fortunately, he was wearing protective gear and sustained only minor injuries.

Explosion Claimed Life of Long-Time Verla International Employee

The Verla International plant at 63 Temple Hill Road primarily manufactures nail polish, lipstick and perfume.  The compound includes both a manufacturing facility and a warehouse.

The initial explosion set off a fire that took 30 fire companies several hours to contain.

A long-time employee of Verla International, William Huntington, 57, of Newburgh, was unaccounted for after the blast. His remains were discovered shortly after 7:30 p.m. that evening.

Seven City of Newburgh firefighters were injured in the second explosion. Two were taken to Westchester Medical Center for burns.

At least 125 people sought treatment at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital. Most were treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released.

OSHA Inspectors Previously Cited Verla International for Failing to Properly Store Flammable-Liquid Containers

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is continuing its investigation into the Verla International plant explosion. The investigation is expected to take 6 months.

According to the Times-Herald Record, OSHA cited the plant 19 times between 2013 and 2016.  Thirteen of the violations were designated “serious,” five were deemed “other” and one involved a “repeat” issue. The company paid fines totaling $60,421.

An OSHA inspection report from November 2016 indicates that Verla was cited for failing to properly store and ground both flammable-liquid containers and their pouring nozzles to prevent dangerous sparks.

Expert Claims Verla International Explosion Was Preventable

An expert interviewed by the Times-Record Herald characterized last month’s tragedy as easily preventable.

“Pouring out a container of HMDZ is commonly known to create a lot of static discharge,” Kyle Angjelo, a New Jersey-based chemist and independent safety consultant, said upon viewing the surveillance footage.

“It’s a really cheap and simple fix for the company to ground (the tank, the barrel and the metal arm). The incident calls into question the company’s administrative controls and its engineering controls.”

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