Maintenance was scheduled for day of deadly boiler explosion in - KMOV.com

Maintenance was scheduled for day of deadly boiler explosion in Soulard

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A damaged building in the area of 3rd Street and Russell (Credit: KMOV) A damaged building in the area of 3rd Street and Russell (Credit: KMOV)

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com / AP) -- The hot water storage instrument that exploded in early April at the Loy-Lange Box Company, killing four people, was scheduled for repair that very day, according to a new report released Thursday morning. The report also said it had not been inspected by City of St. Louis officials, as the law requires, and had been operating for years following an emergency repair in 2012.

A report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board made public Thursday stated that just three days before the explosion engineers noticed a leak and shut it down. A repairman was scheduled to work on the equipment in the afternoon on April 3, but the explosion took place shortly before 8:00 in the morning. Officials from the CSB briefed reporters at a news conference Thursday morning. 

Key points from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board report:

  • The water storage tank had been operating since 2012, with what was termed as an "emergency repair" after a leak was fixed in November of 2012 The repair company at the time recommended a permanent fix, but that was never implemented.
  • St. Louis City is required by law to inspect this type of equipment at least once a year, but there the report says the City of St. Louis did not provide the CSB with any evidence of inspections to the specific unit that exploded. 
  • The report states that if the City had inspected the boiler since 2012, they would have noticed a visible alteration to the vessel.
  • Three days before the explosion the engineers noticed it was leaking. They took a picture of the leak with a cellphone. The steam generation system was shut down and Loy-Lange called a repair company. The company was scheduled to perform the service work on the next business day, the same day of the explosion. On the day of the explosion, despite the leak and pending technician visit, Loy-Lange started up the equipment.

The Chemical Safety Board report says: "The investigation team has determined that the vessel failed due to corrosion..left behind during the 2012 repair." One official at the news conference stated that the corrosion made the unit "uniquely vulnerable to catastrophic failure."

"Water, under the right condition, has properties can be extremely hazardous," said another. 

The officials indicated their investigation was on-going. They would not say if inspections or maintenance could have prevented the explosion and said only generally, that these incidents can be prevented. They say they are still exploring the issue of inspections conducted by the City of St. Louis and other entities, saying it is premature to indicate if there is a broader public safety aspect. They are, though, looking it. 

Read: News 4 Investigates has been looking at the city's inspection practices and most recent inspection reports for the Loy-Lange Box Company.

Around 7:45 a.m. Monday, April 3, the large industrial water storage tank exploded at the Loy-Lange Box Company in the 220 block of Russell Boulevard. The equipment, described as a being about the size of a van, shot through the roof of the building and reached a height of between 450 and 500 feet. The report states it traveled more than 100 mph.

The failure was caused by corrosion of a 6-inch (15-centimeter) ring that was part of the tank, investigators said. "The entire ring failed suddenly," the report said. "The tank circle blew away in one piece from the (tank), creating the conditions for the steam explosion."

The result was a massive blast "equivalent to about 350 pounds (160 kilograms) of TNT" that "launched the storage tank like a rocket through the roof."

The nearly 2,000-pound, 17 1/2-foot-long (900-kilogram, 5-meter-long) tank rose to about 425 feet (130 meters) above street level and was airborne for more than 10 seconds before crashing through the roof at Faultless.

A substantial piece of the boiler traveled around 500 feet laterally, eventually crashing through the roof of the administrative offices of the Faultless Healthcare Linen building, located a block away. 

Watch: Surveillance video shows Soulard boiler explosion

The initial explosion killed 59-year-old Kenneth Trentham, an employee of the Loy-Lange Box Company. 

Eleven seconds after the initial explosion, a large piece of the boiler tore through the ceiling of the Faultless Healthcare Linen building. It struck two employees, identified as 43-year-old Tonya Gonzalez-Suarez and 46-year-old Christopher Watkins, filling out first-day paperwork, killing them both. 

Clifford Lee was also inside the Faultless building when the hot boiler, which weighed an estimated 1.5 tons, entered the building. He was reportedly trapped under the hot boiler. After being freed from under the boiler, Lee was taken to the hospital and initially listed in critical, unstable condition. He was pronounced dead two days later.  

In the City of St. Louis, any business with a boiler must have a city-licensed stationary engineer on staff whenever the equipment is running. Trentham was the engineer on staff at the time of the explosion. He had been licensed since 1996 and had renewed his license every year. 

The boilers were installed in 1966 and 1968. 

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