The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a timeline of the events leading up to a May 2019 explosion at AB Specialty Silicones in Waukegan, IL that killed four people. The agency’s investigation of the explosion is ongoing.
The company makes silicones used to make adhesives, sealants and medical, dental and food processing products. On May 3, 2019, nine employees were inside the facility when something went wrong with a chemical-mixing process and an explosion occurred. Killed in the blast were: Jeff Cummings, 57, of Kenosha, Byron Biehn, 53, of Union Grove, Daniel Nicklas, 24, of Beach Park and Allen Stevens, 29, of Paddock Lake.
In October, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) levied $1.5 million in fines on the company for 12 willful federal safety violations. The CSB has since made additional observations about inadequate safety measures including the lack of flammable gas detectors or hydrogen gas detectors with alarms.
Here’s the timeline the agency has mapped out so far:
- On May 3, 2019, the company was making two batches of EM 652 its trade name for a silicon hydride emulsion used as a water repellent. Under certain circumstances, EM 652 and a chemical used to make it can both produce hydrogen which can be flammable.
- During the second shift that day, the crew packaged the first batch of Em652 into storage containers and began work on a second batch.
- A crew member added the first two chemicals. Shortly after that, around 9:30 p.m., he noticed a problem and began yelling.
- By the time others ran over to see what was the matter, the tank was overflowing with foam.
- It then made a load sound and “erupted” filling the air with a noxious haze and spewing chemicals onto the floor.
- One of the men, the Shift Supervisor, told the crew to ventilate the area but before they could the building exploded.
The CSB is a non-regulatory federal agency that conducts independent investigations of fatal incidents involving chemicals with the goal of improving safety. It will issue a final report on the explosion when it concluds its investigation.
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