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2 Burned in Blast Operation Explosion

Friday, May 10, 2013

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Two workers have been critically burned in explosions at an Oklahoma abrasive blasting and coating plant that may have been operating unlawfully, authorities say.

Authorities are investigating the accident, which occurred just before 1 p.m. Tuesday (May 7) at Ford Sandblasting, in Eufaula, OK. Two workers, Michael Cox and Don Hamilton, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of their bodies in the blasts, authorities said.

Nearby homes, an elementary school and a middle school were evacuated as a precaution, but no other structures were damaged.

Ford Sandblasting explosion

Firefighters said they had not known before the blast that propane tanks were stored at the facility, along with paint, paint thinner and other chemical products.

Volunteer firefighters from four departments spent most of Tuesday working the fire, and only a buckled roof and burned metal were left of the business.

Tank Blast Seen

The business performs abrasive blasting and paints propane tanks. Fire officials told local reporters that workers had been moving a 250-gallon tank when it slipped off a forklift, breaking a valve and beginning to leak.

Authorities have not determined the ignition source, but the explosions occurred when the two workers went back inside, possibly to turn on an exhaust fan, the Tulsa World reported.

Volunteer Eufaula Fire Chief Clifford Shatswell Jr. told Fox 23 TV that he did not know the business had propane stored on site when firefighters responded to the blasts.

"There wasn't an employee there to tell me what we had,” Shatswell told the television station. “We thought paint thinners, combustible stuff like that, but had no idea the propane tanks were in there."

Owner: No Tanks

Mike Ford, who opened the plant 19 years ago, disputed that propane tanks had caused the explosion. He told the Tulsa World that the incident was caused by a "flash explosion" but did not elaborate.

Ford Sandblasting explosion

Ford Sandblasting is located on property zoned commercial, next to a residential area. The city had ordered Ford to cease operations that violated zoning laws.

"I'm going to be meeting with my attorney, and he will tell me what I can say," Ford told the newspaper. "I have nothing to hide. I just want to clarify a lot of misinformation that is going around."

He added: "If a tank had exploded, those two men would not have survived." He also said the accident would have produced tank shrapnel, and none had been found.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was investigating.

Permits Challenged

The company has been in trouble with the city and its neighbors for several months. Reports said the business moved in earlier this year, immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

Larrissa Lapach, who has lived next door to the site for a decade, says her family has filed complaints about the company with the city and is not surprised by the explosions.

"They've been doing industrial work in a commercial building, and the paint and the fumes are so bad we can’t keep our windows open at night," she told a local reporter.

Kyle Lapach called the explosions “really scary” and said he had been afraid for his home and family.

Ford Sandblasting explosion

Two workers were critically injured, and the fire chief said the accident “could have been a lot worse if the tanks would have continued to start exploding."

Shatswell said the accident “could have been a lot worse if the tanks would have continued to start exploding. Could have a major situation had they'd continued to blow," Shatswell said.

Company Warned

In February, the City of Eufala sent a letter to plant owner Jimmy Teague, warning him to cease operations because of permit issues.

The letter, from Community Development Director Gordon Pennington, reported “numerous complaints concerning your business including strong paint odors and excessive noise. The property is not and has never been zoned Industrial.”

The letter also noted that the site was adjacent to one zoned R-1 residential, “the most restrictive residential district.”

“The City requests you cease and desist from any operations not covered in the C-1 [commercial] zoning ordinance to include but not be restricted to [outdoor] painting, sandblasting or excessive equipment noises after or before normal commercial business hours.”

Teague told reporters that he did not know if he was going to reopen the plant.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Accidents; Explosions; Fire; Industrial Contractors; Oil and Gas; Painting Contractor; Surface preparation; Tanks and vessels

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