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NY Asphalt Plant Blast Claims 2 Lives

Thursday, November 10, 2016

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A second worker has died, weeks after an explosion at an upstate New York asphalt plant.

The Albany Times Union reported Friday (Nov. 4) that Al Crowter, 42, died of injuries sustained in the blast, which occurred Oct. 17 at Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions, in Scotia, NY. A plant supervisor, Joe Nichols, died Oct. 19 as a result of the explosion; he was 56.

Mohawk Asphalt
© 2016 Google

Two workers died of injuries sustained in the blast, which occurred Oct. 17 at Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions, in Scotia, NY.

A third worker, identified by the Times Union as Brian Jones, suffered minor injuries in the incident.

Triggered by Blowtorch

According to reports, the explosion was triggered when workers were using a blowtorch on a valve on a tanker truck at the plant. Vapors from what fire officials characterized as a mixture of kerosene, diesel and tar being loaded onto the truck for a road paving job ignited.

The Albany Daily Gazette reported that witnesses heard a series of explosions, and a worker yelling “fire.” They then saw a “big orange cloud” of smoke and flame. The explosion reportedly occurred around 1:00 p.m.

About the Plant

Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions is owned by the Gorman Group, an Albany-based company that provides paving and construction services and materials. The Mohawk plant has 2.9 million gallons of storage, according to the company, and it began production in 1975, supplying emulsions to New York and nearby states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

Asphalt emulsion is a mix of asphalt, water and an emulsifying agent, meant to make the asphalt less viscous, often for application in lower-temperature processes.

In addition to the Mohawk plant, the company has a deep-water asphalt storage facility on the Hudson River in the Port of Rensselaer, NY, and a maintenance facility in Amsterdam, NY. It has three construction facilities, according to the company’s website: Port of Albany, Amsterdam, and Clinton, NY.

Company Statement

Gorman issued a statement after the explosion, reading: “Right now our thoughts, prayers and concerns are with our employees and their families. We appreciate the tremendous support the community has offered, especially from the first responders, and we’re deeply grateful for everyone’s outpouring of concern. Once we have all the facts concerning the events which occurred at our Scotia facility, the information will be shared as appropriate. Thank you.”

Truck spreading asphalt emulsion
Washington State DOT, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr

Asphalt emulsion is a mix of asphalt, water and an emulsifying agent, meant to make the asphalt less viscous.

The company has communicated with the local press through attorney Frank O’Connor, who confirmed the death of Crowter to the Times Union last week.

'Quiet and Reserved'

O’Connor told the Times Union that Nichols, the first victim in the explosion, had worked for Mohawk for 24 years. Nichols’ brother-in-law described him to the newspaper as “a quiet and reserved guy” who “was always willing to do his share and everyone liked him.”

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed to local press that it is investigating the incident. OSHA investigations take up to six months to be completed.

Gorman Group’s only OSHA citation on record relates to failure to signal at a paving site in Vermont in 2010; the company paid a $1,500 fine in that case. No violations have ever been issued at the Mohawk site, according to OSHA records.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Asphalt emulsion; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Roads/Highways

Comment from Steve Brunner, (11/10/2016, 8:13 AM)

Any major accident is sad, loss of life even more so when one thinks of the families left behind. This should serve as a reminder to all that hot work guidelines must be followed, even in a seemingly mundane task of heating up a valve.

Comment from MICHAEL DEATON, (11/10/2016, 10:37 AM)

R.I.P. Brother Al....

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (11/11/2016, 2:35 PM)

Unfortunate incidents like this are the result of management failure to implement and enforce viable safety programs and to provide qualified supervision.

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