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MSHA News Release No. 2000-0207
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Monday, February 7, 2000

 Federal Mine Safety Agency Issues Investigative Report on Kaiser Blast

Excessive pressure in several large tanks caused the July 5, 1999, explosion at the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. plant in Gramercy, La., that injured 29 people, investigators from the Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded in a report issued today. Kaiser's failure to identify and correct hazardous conditions and unsafe practices contributed to the early morning explosion, investigators said.

"Kaiser's apparent failure to follow well-known safety rules and practices resulted in serious injury to workers at the Gramercy Plant," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We are hopeful that these actions will be immediately addressed by Kaiser management so that we may avoid such tragic accidents in the future. And, most importantly, we hope others in the mining community will take note of the lessons learned here. "

Mine safety investigators found that an electrical power failure that occurred about 30 minutes prior to the explosion caused the Kaiser plant's electrically-powered process machinery to stop. Electrically-powered pumps, therefore, could no longer move the extremely hot liquid called "slurry" through the tanks in the process. The flow stopped and pressure built up in the tanks. Investigators also found that the plant's gas-fired boilers continued to deliver high pressure steam to vessels in the digestion area, increasing the pressure. The tanks then exploded with great force, resulting in the near total destruction of four tanks and the release of hot caustic material across the plant and into the surrounding community. Investigators found that the plant's system of relieving pressure in the tanks failed to prevent the build-up of pressure because relief valves had been impermissibly blocked.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded:

In early January, MSHA issued Kaiser 21 citations for violation of federal mine safety regulations as a result of the accident investigation. The citations, which entail civil penalties that can range as high as $55,000 per violation, will be assessed for penalties at a later date. At that point, Kaiser will have the opportunity to contest citations and penalties before the independent Mine Safety Health Review Commission.

The full report on the Kaiser explosion is available publicly through the contact listed on this News Release and through MSHA's Web site on the Internet at www.msha.gov.