Three people died and seven suffered injuries after an explosion while workers were conducting annual repair on piping Wednesday at Packaging Corporation of America paper mill in Beauregard Parish, near DeRidder, LA, officials said.
The explosion took place while contractors performed welding on a tank during a facility shut down, according to initial reports. The explosion was powerful enough to cause the tank to fly and land in a different area of the plant, a release said. Welding is one of several types of “hot work” — or spark-producing operations — that can ignite fires or explosions. Most hot work incidents result in the ignition of combustible materials or the ignition of structures or debris near the hot work.
The blast apparently stemmed from a welding operation being done at PCA on a tank that contained wood chips, officials said. The wood chips, when they deteriorate, create a flammable gas which ignited.
Police released the identities of the three men who died in the explosion: William Rolls Jr., 32; Jody L. Gooch, 40; and Sedrick Stallworth, 42.
A spokesman said Rolls is from Louisiana, but he’s not certain which town. Gooch is from Texas. He said they have not been able to verify Stallworth’s hometown. All three men were contractors working at the plant.
Six of the seven people injured in the explosion ended up released from hospitals, said a spokesman for the state police. Those six sustained what authorities described as minor injuries. One person, who sustained moderate injuries, remained hospitalized Thursday, state police said.
PCA issued a statement late Wednesday:
“At approximately 11:10 am CST, Wednesday, February 8th, there was an explosion at our DeRidder, LA paper mill. The incident involved annual repair work being performed on piping in the pulp mill area and resulted in three contractor fatalities. The cause of the incident is under investigation.
“Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the people working on our site. The top priorities at this time are the notification of families of the deceased contractors and investigation of the incident with authorities.
“At the time of the incident, the D1 machine was down for its annual outage and the D3 machine was running and continues to operate. The current assessment indicates that the annual outage work is expected to be delayed by up to one week and the mill will then resume full operation. Further information will be provided, as appropriate, when it becomes available.”
By noon on Wednesday, the scene was under control, but no information was available yet on what was in the tanks or what caused the explosion, Toler said. Later Wednesday, State Police said the tank was 25 feet high, the fire was out, and there is no chemical hazard.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is deploying a three-person investigative team to the scene of an explosion yesterday at the Packaging Corporation of America.
In a statement, the CSB confirmed a similar incident at a Wisconsin PCA plant.
“The CSB has investigated many hot work accidents across the country, including a 2008 explosion that killed three workers at a different PCA plant in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.” said Chairperson Vanessa Sutherland. “Hot work incidents are one of the most common causes of worker deaths we see at the CSB, but also one of the most readily preventable.”
Following the deadly 2008 explosion at the PCA plant in Wisconsin, the CSB issued a safety bulletin on the hazards of welding and other hot work entitled “Seven Key Lessons to Prevent Worker Deaths during Hot Work In and Around Tanks.” The agency also released a safety video called “Dangers of Hot Work,” which presents the findings from that bulletin.
“The CSB continues to be concerned about the frequency of dangerous hot work incidents and has added safe hot work practices to the agency’s Drivers of Critical Chemical Safety Change Program, a list of key chemical safety advocacy initiatives,” Sutherland said.
The Lake Forest-Illinois-based PCA acquired the old Boise paper mill in 2013.