Explosion at chemical company injures 6 Storage tank top blown off at plant

December 05, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A powerful explosion yesterday at a chemical company near Curtis Bay blew the top off a storage tank, rattled windows of nearby houses and caused a two-alarm fire that injured six workers, fire officials said.

The blast blew a fiberglass roof off a company building next to the 25-foot-tall tank at the 90-acre FMC Corp. plant.

"You could see the fire shooting up," said Andrew Skrzecz, 61, who lives five blocks away. The blast shook the windows of his house and woke Skrzecz, who dressed and drove to the plant.

Three of the injured workers were treated at the company, in the 1700 block of Patapsco Ave. in Fairfield, and three others were taken to Harbor Hospital Center and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, said one man twisted his knee and two others suffered minor chemical burns.

Fire investigators and FMC engineers had not determined the cause of the explosion.

The tank contained Heptane, a petroleum-based chemical used

as a fuel additive and as an industrial-based solvent. FMC officials said the chemical is heated and cooled in a complicated manufacturing process before it is shipped.

Parker Dean, FMC's health, safety and environmental manager, said the Heptane was being heated when the explosion occurred about 10 a.m. "We have to find out what happened today that was different from any other day," he said yesterday afternoon.

lTC The explosion took place on the day that FMC officials, with representatives from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the city Fire Department, were in Philadelphia talking to 40 federal emergency planners about handling hazardous material accidents.

And as firefighters were dousing the flames with foam, an advocacy group was holding a news conference in Baltimore, announcing that the city is among the top 2 percent of jurisdictions nationwide in the number of chemical accidents.

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group said 100 chemical spills were reported to the federal government from 1993 through 1995 in Baltimore -- including 15 involving injuries or evacuation. The group called for laws to require chemical companies to release more information about what they store.

Speaking at the news conference was Jeannette Skrzecz, Andrew's wife. They live east of the plant in Wagner's Point, with about 250 other people, and she worries about her peninsula being cut off during a major incident.

Jeannette Skrzecz called yesterday's fire "scary. We want better information on what is stored. Right now, the information is forthcoming only after an incident."

David Mahler, an environmental manager for Baltimore-based Condea VISTA Co. and chairman of a statewide chemical industry lobbying committee, said the only information companies don't release is the quantity of chemicals used.

"The public knows how [many chemicals] we release, how many accidents we have and when we have them," he said, adding that the research group's news release "makes it sound as though nobody knows what is being used in chemical plants. That is not true."

Susan Woods, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said FMC Corp. has a good record. She noted that the company was cited last year and this year for what she called "minor procedural violations," mainly involving paperwork.

City fire officials said they could only speculate that a malfunction triggered the explosion and fire, which was under control within one hour.

The injured workers were in a building next to the tank.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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