Boiler system that exploded in Soulard hadn't been inspected by - KMOV.com

Boiler system that exploded in Soulard hadn't been inspected by city since 2011

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A boiler-plate explosion in Soulard was captured on surveillance camera at a nearby BP gas station. Credit: BP A boiler-plate explosion in Soulard was captured on surveillance camera at a nearby BP gas station. Credit: BP
SOUTH ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -

It was a horrific explosion that killed four people near Soulard last month.

A two-ton water tank launched into the air, crashing into a nearby building.

Thursday, News 4 expects to know more about what a federal agency says caused that explosion in a press release.

But News 4 has now learned that the city of St. Louis actually stopped inspecting that facility’s steam pressure boiler nearly six years ago. News 4 also discovered officials stopped routinely inspecting the thousands of boilers in the city just like it.

On April 3, a 2,000-pound water storage tank rocketed out of the Loy-Lange Box Company, flew more than 500 feet and landed in the Faultless Linen Company.

The exact cause is still under investigation.

But St. Louis City law says that all vessels are supposed to be inspected annually.

So News 4 pulled public records. The pressure system at Loy-Lange had been inspected on a somewhat routine basis, until 2011 when the inspections stopped.

“It was just a matter of workload,” said Frank Oswald, the city’s Building Commissioner.

Oswald says the City of St. Louis already required what's called a stationary engineer at each boiler site in the city.

Oswald says because the engineer is trained and certified, the city decided they no longer needed to do their own inspections. Oswald says that changed happened in about 2011 or 2012.

The engineers are employed by the company operating the boiler and they do not provide any documentation to the city about problems or repairs.

“What would you say to someone who says, that's like the fox guarding the henhouse?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager. “I would say that's not necessarily true, that's not true at all. Just like any professional certification, you have a duty to preserve public safety,” said Oswald.

But boiler experts, like Wayne Mueller, say the city's method, different from most other jurisdictions in the state, is problematic. Mueller spent many years on Missouri’s Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Rules and helped write the majority of Missouri’s current rules.

“An outside entity other than the owner needs to be involved to make sure the safety appliances are working properly,” Mueller said.

The city now plans to make some clarifications in the law, but don't expect them to start doing their own inspections any time soon.

“Given the explosion, given the fact that four people have died, do you still believe that the way the city does things makes people safer?” Trager asked.  “I do believe we have one of the best systems in the country as far as trying to prevent something like this,” Oswald said.

Oswald says they will occasionally still do inspections, but he tells News 4 there's no way that they could require businesses to shut down for a period of time to allow them to do an inspection.

But experts say that's exactly how it's done in most parts of the state, with an independent third party inspector then reporting to a state board what was found.

A report from one of the federal agencies investigating the Soulard investigation will be released Thursday. News 4 will provide coverage as soon as information is available on air and on KMOV.com.

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