Before Cresson blast, ‘flames appeared around his legs,’ then on his clothes and hair

One employee was missing and two other workers were injured in a chemical fire Thursday morning at a commercial building in Cresson, authorities said. Cresson is about 25 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
One employee was missing and two other workers were injured in a chemical fire Thursday morning at a commercial building in Cresson, authorities said. Cresson is about 25 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Courtesy of WFAA-TV

A number of safety violations were documented by Occupational Safety and Health Administrative officials after a fire and explosion at a Cresson chemical plant that killed one worker and severely injured another.

The family of Dylan Mitchell, who died, and Jason William Speegle, who was injured in the blast March 15, have filed a lawsuit blaming sodium chlorite, a potentially dangerous chemical for the destruction of the plant and the loss of life.

The lawsuit claims that the companies involved in the sale, employee training and the labeling instructions concerning the handling of sodium chlorite were negligent in their duty to inform workers about the risks of working around the chemical. Both Mitchell and Speegle were badly burned during the fire and explosion at Tri-Chem Specialty Chemicals LLC, and Mitchell’s injuries were fatal.

OSHA officials who inspected Tri-Chem, one of four companies named in the lawsuit, levied fines that totaled more than $16,200 after the plant explosion in Cresson. Cresson is about 24 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

OSHA said that prior to the explosion and on the date of the blast, the sodium chlorite was moved while employees were working near materials that could ignite, such as organic solvents, oils and acids. Tri-Chem was also penalized by OSHA officials for using flexible cords and cables as a substitute for fixed wiring to provide power to a dust collector and other equipment at the plant.

The citation said there was the potential that employees could be exposed to fire or electric shock hazards by using flexible cords to transmit electricity. OSHA officials also noted that the flexible cords that were used were not properly secured to building surfaces, which could produce further fire or electrical shock risks.

OSHA officials also penalized Tri Chem for failing to ensure that its employee training included measures to protect workers from chemical hazards, such as the hazards of using cardboard and other combustibles when moving sodium chlorite.

The company ended up paying $12,566 in total fines after one violation and penalty concerning employee ventilator testing was revoked. No corrective actions were needed because the plant was destroyed in the fire and explosion.

John Jose, one of the lawyers representing the families in the lawsuit, said some of the violations do not appear at first glance to be contributing factors, particularly the wiring and ventilator issues.

But “their conduct indicates to me that Tri Chem should have been properly vetted, instructed and warned by the suppliers of this product and I don’t believe they were,” Jose said.

According to Jose, it appears that Mitchell fell into a large amount of sodium chlorite after he caught on fire. The descriptions of the incident in the lawsuit are based on an eyewitness account and research into the chemical, Jose said.

“It ignited around his feet and then spread upwards on his clothing,” Jose said. “He fell into the supersack (of sodium chlorite) and at that point there was an explosion. “

According to the lawsuit, Mitchell and Speegle were mixing a batch of sodium chlorite and water for resale when some of the powdered chemical fell on the plant floor. Apparently, Mitchell’s foot touched the lid of the sodium chlorite container, which was on the floor, moving it a short distance and causing sparks, the lawsuit says.

It had “the appearance of a lit fuse or sparkler along the path,” according to the lawsuit.

“Suddenly flames appeared around Mitchell’s legs, which caught his clothes and hair afire,” the lawsuit states. “The flames made contact with additional sodium chlorite in a large open supersack nearby resulting in a massive explosion and fire.”

At least 12 workers were in the building when the fire erupted. Small fires were still burning at the plant five days later.

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