Chocolate factory blast: Gas leaked from bad fitting

Natural gas leaked from faulty fittings at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania, where a powerful explosion collapsed one building, severely damaged another, and killed seven people, U.S. federal safety investigators say. An investigation into the cause of the explosion continues, it said on Tuesday.

According to the latest investigative report released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, one of the two leaks at the RM Palmer plant in West Reading was caused by a broken gas connection installed in 1982. It turned out that it did. Investigators also determined there was a small leak in a natural gas fitting installed in 2021, the commission said.

Older DuPont fittings are known to crack, and were added to the federal government’s list of “poor performance history” pipe materials in 2007, according to the Safety Board. However, it had been installed during public works two years ago and remained connected to the natural gas system.

The findings infuriated lawyers for the victims’ families.

“Losing a family to an unforeseen and unknown danger is another story,” said Robert Mongeruzzi, the attorney who filed the lawsuit against UGI, a natural gas utility that served Palmer, DuPont and chocolate factories. It is.” “But here, this is a problem and a flaw that has been known for decades, and that makes the loss and tragedy even worse.”

At the time of the March 24 explosion, approximately 70 Palmer manufacturing staff and 35 administrative staff were working in two adjacent buildings. Employees at both buildings told federal investigators they smelled gas before the explosions. Workers at the plant accused Palmer of ignoring warnings of a natural gas leak and argued that the small town 60 miles (96 km) northwest of Philadelphia should have been evacuated. there is

UGI, which supplied natural gas to the factory complex via two mains, said there were no public works in the area and no sudden surge in gas usage was detected before the explosion. .

Safety investigators determined that UGI replaced the service line at the Palmer plant in 2021, but left the 1982 service tee connected to the system and fully pressurized.

Attorney Andrew Duffy, who is working with Mongheruzzi on behalf of survivors and victims’ families, said, “While UGI is well aware of the dangerous flaws in DuPont’s plumbing, in 2021 there will still be problems. “We have reason to believe that the DuPont plumbing was left untouched.” . He said the safety board had also found leaks in new pipes, adding that “poor materials and poor workmanship have cost seven lives.”

Civil lawsuits filed after the Palmer explosion say old plastic pipes made by DuPont and others have long been linked to breakdowns across the country. As far back as 1998, federal regulators said many of the plastic pipes manufactured for natural gas distribution in the 1960s and early 1980s were prone to cracking.

Investigators said they were investigating a gas leak as a possible cause or contribution to the explosion at the chocolate factory, but had not reached a conclusion.

“We are not at a stage to say what caused the explosion,” NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Tuesday.

The cracked joint was less than two feet from other pipelines running between the two factory buildings, including steam lines, condensate lines, and several pipelines filled with heated chocolate. bottom. Investigators said they also saw cracks in steam pipes.

UGI said it was aware of the safety commission’s report and was cooperating with it. The power company declined to comment further on the ongoing investigation. “Our focus and efforts remain with the victims and the West Reading community,” said Joe Swope, a spokesman for the power company.

In a statement, Palmer said he would continue to focus on rebuilding and “do everything in our power to help the entire West Reading community recover.” DuPont said it was reviewing the safety commission’s report but declined to comment further, citing the civil lawsuit.

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