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Industrial Safety

CSB issues long-stalled report on pressure vessel incident

Release of Loy-Lange report is first in nearly a year

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
August 15, 2022

Aerial view of a large cylinder smashed through the roof of a building.
Credit: US Chemical Safety Board
A leak in a steel pressure vessel at Loy-Lange Box Company launched it 150 m and through the roof of a neighboring facility, killing four people.

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board recently released a final report detailing the cause of an industrial incident that launched a large pressure vessel 150 m, killing four people—one employee of the company and three of a neighboring facility. The April 2017 explosion occurred at the Loy-Lange Box Company, a 71-employee manufacturer of corrugated cardboard in St. Louis, Missouri.

CSB interim executive Steve Owens noted at a July 29 briefing that the report “took far too long to complete” and was the only CSB accident report issued in the last 10 months. That view was seconded by board member Sylvia E. Johnson, who acknowledged CSB difficulties. The CSB has 17 unfinished reports, “probably the biggest report backlog in CSB’s history,” she said. Johnson urged “grace and patience” from public stakeholders as the board attempts to correct problems.

On a Friday 5 years ago, Loy-Lange operators noticed a leak in the bottom of the pressure vessel as the plant shut down for a regular-scheduled weekend break. The company did not repair the vessel, which was a steel cylinder 5.3 m long and 76 cm in diameter. When the plant restarted on Monday morning, the leak expanded, releasing pressurized water and steam and launching the vessel into another nearby plant, killing three people there as well as one worker at Loy-Lange.

According to the report and a presentation by CSB investigator Drew Sahli at the board’s briefing, extensive dissolved oxygen had led to excessive corrosion in the vessel’s bottom head. The vessel had never been inspected in the 20 years it was operating, either by the company or the the city of St. Louis, which regulated pressure vessels within its jurisdiction. In 2012, a similar leak had been inadequately repaired by the now defunct Kickham Boiler and Engineering company.

The CSB investigation yielded several recommendations. One is that Loy-Lange establish a process safety management system. The agency also recommends that St. Louis and the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors fill gaps in their regulatory oversight programs.

Owens noted that one of the reasons the report was delayed was the high turnover of CSB staff, particularly investigators. Owens and Johnson, like past CSB leaders, promised to address the problem.

Owens also announced several changes. Among them, the CSB will reinstate periodic factual updates on ongoing investigations and allow public comments at the conclusion of its public meetings. Both were ended by past CSB chair Katherine Lemos, who resigned and left the board July 22.

Lemos was the only CSB member appointed by former president Donald J. Trump, and she was the only member of the board, which should have five members, for 2 years. Trump tried three times to defund the industrial accident investigatory body.

Owens and Johnson, both appointees of President Joe Biden, are currently the only members of the board. Biden has nominated a third member, Catherine J. K. Sandoval, who awaits Senate confirmation.


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