Explosion Kills 4 Workers at Florida Lab

Updated 12/20: See below 

Four workers were killed and at least 14 people were injured in a violent explosion at the T2 Labs in Jacksonville, Florida.  The firm manufacturers Ecotane®, the gasoline additive “methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl” (i.e.,  MMT® or MCMT), which increases the octane rating of gasoline.  The firm says that its Florida facility is state-of-the art, and uses a “novel, safe and efficient process.”  We’ll have to wait for OSHA or the Chemical Safety Board to tell us whether they had an effective process management safety system. 

The company’s website describe the firm as:

“The World’s Only Supplier of Ecotane® and unique Next-Generation Safe Solvent Technology.  T2 Labs specializes in the design and manufacture of low environmental impact specialty chemicals that replace conventional toxic and dangerous industrial chemicals.”

Today’s (12/20) Jacksonville Times-Union is reporting:

Fire and Rescue Department officials said they handled the last flare-up about 2 or 3 a.m. They reported no injuries to [fire] personnel and said Jacksonville police are taking over the next phase of the investigation.  Police have not named the victims, but the son of one of the plant’s owners said Wednesday evening that his father is missing.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a statement saying:

“…a six-person investigation team is deploying to the scene of a fatal explosion and fire at a chemical plant which occurred today in Jacksonville, Florida.  The team is expected to arrive on site mid-morning Thursday to begin its investigation at T2 Labs, a company that produces octane-enhancing additives for gasoline.   …CSB Board Member Gary Visscher will accompany a team headed by Lead Investigator Robert Hall, and investigators Johnnie Banks, Francisco Altamirano, Jeffrey Wanko, Mary Nikityn and Lucy Sciallo.”

OSHA did not issue a statement about the disaster and its planned response.  I searched OSHA’s on-line inspection database but I didn’t identify any inspections results for the T2 lab. 

Just last month, Michael P. Walsh, PhD*, an expert in mobile sources of air pollution published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, “The global experience with lead in gasoline and the lessons we should apply to the use of MMT.”   His informative article alerted me that the infamous Ethyl Corporation is the world’s principle producer of MMT through its sister firm Afton Chemical.  (In 2004 the Ethyl Corporation formed a new parent company NewMarket Corporation of which Afton Chemical and Ethyl are operating divisions.)  Dr. Walsh writes:

“As lead was phased down in North America beginning in the 1970′s, Ethyl began to market MMT as a lead replacement.  Since that time, the impact of MMT on human health, the environment, vehicles, and vehicle emissions has been the subject of a great deal of research.  Even so, there continues to be substantial controversy regarding MMT: automakers widely oppposed its use; many public health advocates and regulatory agencies are concerned about the potential health impacts; and Ethyl continues to vigorously defend its product as safe and effective.” (emphasis added.)

Their defense of MMT sounds familiar to their defense of tetraethyl lead– their original gasoline-additive product.

Dr. Walsh explains:

Methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT) is an octane enhancer that forms manganese particles when burned as a gasoline additive.  These particles can be emitted to the atmosphere or deposited on engine and vehicle components, causing concern in either case.  Manganese can be a potent neurotoxin when inhaled and automakers are concerned that deposited manganese can damage pollution control systems and increase emissions, perhaps even preventing new cars from meeting the most advanced emission standards.  A growing body of scientific evidence has begun to expose the mechanisms of impact in humans and vehicle systems.  Makers of MMT, however, continue to argue that evidence is flawed and insufficient.

*Note: Dr. Walsh Michael P. Walsh was the first career EPA employee to receive the agency’s lifetime achievement award for air pollution control, received the California Air Resources Board Dr. Arie Haagen Smit Clean Air Award for his global efforts towards mobile source emission reductions, and is a MacArthur Fellow. 

Update 12/20: The Jacksonville Union-Times is reporting names as the victims of the explosion:

Charles Budds Bolchoz, 48; Karey Renard Henry, 35; Parish Lamar Ashley36 and Robert Scott Gallagher, 49.

The T2 Lab’s website describes Mr. Gallagher as the firm’s marketing director and an individual who has

“a BS Chemical Engineer from the University of Florida (’81) who coordinates our sales and marketing functions.  He accumulated experience in process modeling and plant design with the M.W. Kellogg Company in Houston, IBM Semiconductors in Research Triangle Park, and Millennium Specialty Chemicals in Jacksonville (formerly SCM Glidco Organics).   Scott brings technical knowledge from a broad range of industries together to create a portfolio of products that serve many market sectors equally well.”