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U.S. Chemical Safety Board Releases Animated Video in Baton Rouge Refinery Explosion That Severely Burned Four Workers


The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has produced a new animated video as part of its investigation into the recent ExxonMobil refinery explosion that severely burned four workers.

The blast occurred on November 22, 2016 in the facility’s alkylation unit, where a volatile chemical called isobutane is converted into a component of gasoline. The disaster sent one ExxonMobile employee and three contractors to Baton Rouge General Hospital’s regional burn unit. One of those individuals was burned over most of her body.

30-Year-Valve Design Contributed to ExxonMobile Refinery Explosion

Just prior to the explosion, two operators were attempting to use a pipe wrench to remove the cover from a malfunctioning valve on an isobutane line. Part of the valve fell out as one of the operators turned the valve stem, releasing a cloud of isobutane that traveled 70 feet before it was ignited by a welding machine.

According to the Chemical Safety Board, the design of the malfunctioning valve stem is about 30-years-old, and unknown to the operators, was used in about 3% of the valves present in the ExxonMobile refinery’s alkylation unit.

“This 30 -year-old design used bolts to connect the gearbox and its support bracket to the valve and also secured a critical piece of pressure-containing equipment called the top-cap,” the CSB said in a statement issued on July 26th. “When removed, the bolts leave the top-cap disconnected and the valve vulnerable to pressure.”

OSHA Levies $165,000 Fine in ExxonMobile Refinery Explosion

The Chemical Safety Board is not the only federal agency investigating the Exxon Baton Rouge refinery explosion. In May, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued nine citations related to the blast, including eight that were designated “serious.”

ExxonMobile was fined a total of $165,000, including $12,675 for each serious citation, as well as $63,000 for failing to carry out external visual and ultrasonic inspections of piping. The ninth citation carried a higher penalty, as Exxon had previously been cited for failing to conduct the same inspections at its refining and chemical plant complex in Bayton, Texas.

Chemical Safety Board in Trump Administration Crosshairs

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical incidents. Though it has no power to issues fines or new regulations, the Board does make recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies. It operates on an annual budget of less than $12 million and is comprised of fewer than 50 employees.

The Chemical Safety Board’s has earned a well-regarded reputation, and many of its investigations have resulted in industry-wide changes that have potentially saved an untold number of lives.

“The safety board is an honest broker at identifying problems, and industry appreciates having that,” Glenn Ruskin, communications director for the American Chemical Society, recently told

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has a different view, and has proposed eliminating the Chemical Safety Board as part of its campaign to dismantle the regulatory framework that protects workers and the public from refinery explosions and other industrial disasters.

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