A federal agency has released a video detailing the results of its investigation into a fatal Waukegan chemical explosion in 2019.
The United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released the fifteen-minute video on April 28, 2022. It recreated a deadly blast that occurred nearly three years earlier at an AB Specialty Silicones plant near Northwestern Avenue and Sunset Avenue in Waukegan, IL. The company manufactures and distributes silicone products used worldwide in a wide variety of applications, including personal care and roof coatings.
The video comes on the heels of an investigation in which the CSB concluded that AB Specialty’s inadequate safety procedures and insufficient regulations by the responsible federal government agencies both contributed to a “potentially preventable” explosion.
Waukegan Chemical Explosion Kills Four
At the time of the Waukegan chemical explosion, which took place on the night of May 3, 2019, the plant had been utilizing a batch process to manufacture EM-652, a waterproofing agent.
The CSB video demonstrated how a worker misidentified a drum of chemicals and then mixed two incompatible chemicals – potassium hydroxide and XL 10 – to produce flammable hydrogen gas.
The gas ignited, causing a “massive explosion” at the plant, where nine people were working at the time. Four of these workers were killed, including 53-year-old Byron H. Biehn, 57-year-old Jeff Cummings, 24-year-old Daniel Nicklas, and 29-year-old Allen E. Stevens, Jr. Three other employees suffered injuries in the blast, while the remaining two escaped the building unharmed.
The Waukegan chemical explosion caused more than $1 million in damage, including to at least five other buildings in that area of the facility.
In October 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited AB Specialty Silicones for “willful violations,” a citation reserved for incidents in which “the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”
OSHA also fined the company $1,591,176.00 and placed it in the “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.”
More Stringent Regulations May Be Necessary
The CSB identified a number of lax practices at AB Specialty Silicones that may have contributed to the inadvertent mixture of chemicals that likely caused the Waukegan chemical explosion. For example, no procedures were in place to separate the potassium hydroxide and the XL 10, such as using different colored drums for each, there were no gas detectors at the facility to warn of the presence of hydrogen gas, and the overall design of the equipment could have been safer.
Nevertheless, the CSB also concluded that AB Specialty had complied with all regulatory requirements from both OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prior to the Waukegan chemical explosion. As CSB Chairperson and CEO Katherine Lemos said in the video, though companies need to be as careful as possible, more stringent regulations are needed as well in order to prevent the types of future catastrophes for which victims may require the assistance of personal injury attorneys.
“Inadequate recognition and evaluation of reactive explosions has been a significant factor in reactive chemical incidents with known causes,” said Lemos. “Yet companies are not required by regulation to implement the most basic safety management systems to control these hazards.
“It is past time for regulators to fully recognize the hazards presented by reactive chemicals. We call on OSHA and EPA to update their regulatory standards (for) better coverage of reactive chemicals. Closing the regulatory gap will prevent tragic incidents and save lives.”
Advocating for Chemical Explosion Victims
Explosions can inflict devastating, sometimes fatal injuries. The degree of harm can be even greater if the explosions are chemical in nature because they could spread toxic substances far beyond the blast itself.
If you are the victim of a chemical explosion, you may find it difficult to obtain fair compensation from the responsible parties because of the complex nature of these events. It may require technical expertise to determine the cause of the explosion and to identify and pursue everyone who may be at fault. To help overcome these challenges, consider reaching out to the knowledgeable personal injury attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
GWC is one of the premier Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois, with more than $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients. Our dedicated personal injury attorneys have the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation you need to get you and your family the justice you deserve.
Contact GWC today to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation with a personal injury attorney. You may call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives at any time.