Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion: Cause unknown

West Reading, Pennsylvania –

Investigators looking for the cause of the deadly explosion that destroyed parts of a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania have been scouring the extensively dismembered and roaming wreckage during the weekend’s intensive search for victims and survivors. I was looking into it without knowing it, so I faced an even more difficult task on Monday.

Seven people were killed and several injured in a powerful explosion at the RM Palmer factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles (96 km) northwest of Philadelphia. Hours after the blast rattled windows and shook houses, a survivor was dragged out of the rubble.

Now that the recovery work is over, attention has turned to determining the cause.

Pennsylvania State Police Lieutenant David Boehm said at a news conference Monday afternoon that “the primary purpose of this plan is to locate victims once the fire is extinguished and the gas is shut off.” “So when they take the building apart with excavators, yes, it makes things really hard to try to figure out..It makes it really hard to try to figure out the cause.”

Authorities have refused to respond to reports that workers at the power plant smelled gas before the explosion. Gas company UGI said it had not received any reports of gas leaks at the family-owned candy company.

“The investigation is not over yet, so everything is being considered at this point. Either way, we can’t say that at this point,” Beohm said. Firefighters from two state police are working to determine the cause and source of the explosion, he said.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates workplace safety, was also on the scene.

Natural gas wasn’t the only possible cause.

Chocolate companies and other food manufacturers should take steps to reduce the risk of fires and explosions from combustible dust produced by ingredients such as cocoa powder and corn starch, according to the National Fire Protection Association of Industry and Chemicals. Holly Burgess, Technical Director, Material Safety, said. -Commercial organizations that create hundreds of codes and standards.

Burgess said a small particle that remains in the air poses a greater danger than a large particle that quickly falls to the floor. Food manufacturers are supposed to determine the flammability of the dust, conduct a hazard analysis, and then take steps to control it.

“Because every batch is different, a cocoa chocolate mass from one location may have a larger or smaller particle size, so you usually have to do your own testing,” says Burgess in general. It’s not about Palmer’s situation.

Commercial ovens and furnaces and commercial refrigerants that use ammonia are the other major explosion hazards in food factories, she said.

Records from OSHA, the federal workplace safety agency, show only one violation at the West Reading plant in the past five years. In 2018, an employee lost a fingertip while cleaning a pneumatically pressurized ball valve. The company agreed to pay a fine of US$13,000.

OSHA fined more than US$12,000 after inspecting RM Palmer’s factory in nearby Wyomissing in January, according to records. The details of the incident were not immediately known.

RM Palmer said in a statement over the weekend that everyone at the company was battered and communications systems were down, and that employees and their families are being contacted through first responders and disaster recovery organizations. “The tragic events that occurred Friday have had a huge impact on all of us at RM Palmer. We appreciate the outpouring of support as we continue to cope with the loss of our friends and colleagues. ‘, the company said on Facebook on Sunday.

The company did not comment further. On Monday he did not respond to questions from AP.

The Berks County coroner’s office has identified two of the victims as Amy Sandow of Ephrata, 49, and Domingo Cruz, 60, of Redding, and to identify the other five victims, ” “Additional forensic investigations are needed,” he said. An autopsy was expected to be completed by the weekend, officials said.

Rescuers were using thermal imaging equipment and dogs to search for possible survivors after the blast destroyed one building and damaged an adjacent building. Police Chief Wayne Holben said the crew used heavy machinery to carefully and methodically pull debris from the site.

Three buildings around the site were denounced as a precautionary measure pending further investigation by structural engineers to ensure safety.

Officials said they had no updates on the condition of the woman who was pulled alive from the rubble early Saturday. Mayor Samantha Kaag said she was apparently upstairs and called her rescue team despite her injuries after her dog found her and was found in “desired circumstances.” .

Reading Hospital said it had received 10 patients, transferred two to other facilities, two each were admitted in good condition and the rest were discharged. Dr. Charles Barbera, the hospital’s president and CEO, said one of the hospitalized patients was discharged on Monday.

UGI spokesperson Joe Swope said after reconnecting gas, it detected several gas leaks at street level some distance from the plant and completed repairs. “The company believes these are unrelated to the Palmer explosion,” he said.

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