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Chemical Plant in PA Blows Up

Saturday, Feb. 20th a chemical plant in Pennsylvania blew up. Stories from CNN follow. This sort of accident is what those who drafted our present Right-To-Know laws were concerned about. Unfortunately TRI, the result of this legislation, does little to tell us about the consequences of this sort of accident in our communities. Now 66,000 facilities of this sort must report their "worst case scenarios" in case of accident to EPA by June 1999. That's the good news. The bad news is that EPA is limiting the distribution of this vitally important RMP/OCA data, required by the Clean Air Act. For more about this check

Source: CNN Headline News

Pennsylvania chemical blast investigated

5 dead, 13 injured

February 20, 1999 Web posted at: 9:37 p.m. EST (0237 GMT)

ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Investigators poked through a twisted pile of steel and concrete Saturday, trying to find out what caused an explosion at a chemical plant Friday night that killed five people and injured 13 others, including five firefighters.

One person pulled from the rubble remained in critical condition at Lehigh Valley Hospital Center. The rest of the injured were treated and released.

Authorities believe the explosion at Concept Sciences Inc. occurred while the workers were making hydroxylamine, a chemical used in etching computer semiconductors. The plant was in an industrial park about three miles from downtown Allentown.

The blast created a 4-foot crater inside the two-story building and blew out its concrete walls. The explosion shook buildings and homes for miles and sent metal studs, concrete and insulation flying for several hundred yards in all directions.

Windows were blown out in six nearby office buildings and at least 30 parked cars. About 1,000 people living nearby lost electricity for several hours.

Rescuers spent more than seven hours, hampered by freezing temperatures and the unstable rubble, searching for bodies.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Richard Schweiker toured the area Saturday and promised an "intense, thorough" investigation.

He said the explosion was probably caused by "the improper mixing of chemicals inside the building." He said the chemicals blown into the air posed no health or environmental hazard.

The chemicals involved in making hydroxylamine include potassium hydroxide and hydroxylamine sulfate, said Dave Lesak, Leigh County's hazardous materials team director. He said hydroxylamine can become volatile if it gets too hot or too dry.

"At this point, we don't know which of those might have happened," Lesak said.

State and federal environmental officials, as well as the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, are joining local law enforcement in investigating the explosion.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Pennsylvania chemical plant blast kills 5

February 20, 1999 Web posted at: 12:09 p.m. EST (1709 GMT)

ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Rescue teams Saturday found five bodies buried in the rubble of a chemical plant explosion outside Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Crews used infrared equipment and canine units overnight to search through tons of twisted steel and debris for victims of Friday night's blast at the Concept Sciences Inc. plant.

"What we have here is a very sad situation," said Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grimm.

The five dead were among seven people inside the plant at the time of the explosion, authorities said. The other two were pulled injured from the rubble and one of them was listed in critical condition at an area hospital.

Six other people were reportedly treated and released following the explosion in Hanover Township, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia.

The blast sent a cloud of smoke into the air and could be felt as far as 10 miles away. Workers at the adjacent Railroad Packing and Shipping company fled after they heard the explosion.

"We thought it was a plane crashing into our building," said Railroad Packing employee Mike Giuffrida.

John Conklin, director of the Lehigh County Emergency Management Office, said authorities believe the explosion happened during distillation of hydroxylamine, a volatile chemical used by the company for processing salt in water heaters. Potassium hydroxide may also have been involved in the blast, Conklin said.

Officials set up a one mile perimeter around the site and warned residents in approximately 500 nearby homes to stay inside as a precautionary measure.
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