Three die, 4 hurt when boiler explodes in St. Louis box plant

Investigators were trying to pinpoint what caused the 1.5-ton cast iron boiler to blow up.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Three people were killed and four others injured April 3 when an explosion launched a boiler the size of a van through the roof a St. Louis box company and slammed much of it down hundreds of feet away in a neighbouring laundry business, the fire chief said.

One person died in the blast about 8 a.m. at the Loy-Lange Box Co. and two more were killed when a large piece of the boiler crashed into the Faultless Healthcare Linen building’s office area a block away, Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said.

Investigators were trying to pinpoint what caused the cast iron boiler estimated to weigh about a ton and a half to explode at the building in a largely industrial area of south St. Louis, Jenkerson said.

Two of four survivors are critically injured, including a linen company worker who was found pinned beneath the boiler, which Jenkerson said was roughly 4 feet in diameter and 10 feet long (1.2 metres in diameter and 3 metres long).

He said the boiler was still hot when rescuers arrived and that it had travelled up to 500 feet (150 metres).

None of the victims’ names have been released.

A third building was damaged when a piece of pipe – about 8 feet (2.5 metres) long – linked to the explosion went through its roof, Jenkerson said. Other debris was found on the street, he said.

While at least initially believing the explosion was accidental, Jenkerson said investigators will seek out and review the boiler’s inspection and maintenance records.

It was not immediately clear if anyone was working on the boiler at the time of the blast.

The phone rang unanswered at Loy-Lange Box Co., and an e-mail message by The Associated Press to the company wasn’t immediately returned.

The company is described on its website as a “full-service corrugator and custom box manufacturer.”

Investigators from the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on the scene, OSHA spokesman Scott Allen said.

The box company has paid $12,700 fines for safety issues.

The agency’s online records show that Loy-Lange was cited last year for a “general requirement” arising from holes in floors that prevented proper cleaning. The company paid a $3,741 fine, half of what OSHA initially assessed. The company also paid a $6,566 fine in 2015, and a $2,450 fine the year before that for what OSHA classified as “serious” violations.

In 2014, the company paid $2,450 of an initial $3,500 fine for improper energy control procedures, such as failing to properly train employees to ensure machinery was turned off and powered down and for not conducting annual energy control inspections. Allen couldn’t say if that violation had anything to do with the boiler. And in 2015, the company paid $6,566 of a $9,380 fine for defective equipment, including a forklift without lights and damage to safety latches.

The explosion happened in an industrial portion near St. Louis’ historic Soulard area, among the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Located near the Anheuser-Busch brewery and home to St. Louis’ yearly Mardi Gras festivities, Soulard features an eclectic mix of red brick townhomes, restaurants, shops and a sprawling farmers market.

Mark Spence, Faultless Healthcare Linen’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that that company “immediately will be giving what practical help we can to our employees and their families.

“We are grateful to the firefighters and other emergency responders who have acted heroically in response to this tragic event,” Spence said.

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