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PCA Failed to Prevent Deadly Louisiana Paper Mill Explosion that Killed 3 Contractors, Injured 7


A final report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) suggests that the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) could have prevented a deadly paper mill explosion that tragically killed 3 Louisiana contractors last year.

Storage Tank Exploded When Hot Work Activities Ignited Flammable Materials

The fatal blast occurred shortly after 11:00 a.m. on February 8, 2017, when the PCA pulp and paper mill in DeRidder was undergoing its annual maintenance shutdown.

A crew was welding water pipes connected to a 10,000-gallon-capacity storage tank when their hot work activities ignited flammable materials inside, causing it to explode. The tank was separated from its base and launched over a 6-story structure before it landed on equipment some 375 feet away.

Three contractors – 32-year-old William Rolls Jr.; 42-year-old Sedrick Stallworth; and 40-year-old Jody L. Gooch – were killed in the blast. All had been working on top of the tank when it exploded.

Seven other workers were transferred to area hospitals with moderate or minor injuries.

“Confusion” Allowed Tank to Accumulate Flammable Turpentine

According to the CSB’s final report, the tank contained about 10 feet of liquid, called “foul condensate,” that consisted of water and a floating layer of flammable materials, including residual turpentine.

Because of a months-long state of confusion regarding the operation of the tank, more turpentine than usual had been allowed to accumulate on the foul condensate. The vapor space inside the tank also contained more air than usual due to the non-routine conditions present during the annual shutdown.

While workers had used a natural gas detector to test the air outside of the tank for flammable materials, they were tragically unaware that it contents posed a serious hazard to those who were scheduled to perform necessary repairs.

CSB Report Outlines Actions that Could Have Prevented PCA Explosion

According to the CSB, the PCA paper mill explosion may never have occurred had the company:

  • Conducted a process hazard analysis for the non-condensable gas system.
  • Applied effective safeguards to prevent a non-condesable gas system explosion.
  • Evaluated safer design options that could have eliminated the possibility of additional air entering the foul condensate tank.
  • Established who at the mill was responsible for operation of the foul condensate tank.

While the report does acknowledge that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) process safety management regulations do not apply to the mill’s non-condensable gas system, the Board’s investigators found that PCA had not even followed voluntary guidelines.

“Hot work incidents occur across all industries and cause far too many serious injuries and deaths. These events, like the explosion at PCA, often reveal weaknesses in a facility’s process safety management system,” CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said in an April 24th statement announcing the Board’s findings. “Companies must effectively identify, evaluate, and control hazards at their facilities so that future hot work incidents can be prevented.”

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