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Union Report on Upper Big Branch Explosion Faults Massey Energy, Suggests Evidence Tampering

The United Mine Workers union has released its own report into last year’s deadly explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine. The report is highly critical of the way non-union Massey Energy handled the disaster.

The explosion killed 29 workers, and the title of the report instantly gives a sense of how the United Mine Workers of America views the disaster: it’s called Industrial Homicide.

After the blast, the UMWA was designated an official representative of coal miners in the non-union mine. In the report, the union predictably criticizes Massey Energy, saying equipment wasn’t well-maintained and safely operated. It also faults federal regulators for not shutting the mine down.

But the report does contain two new pieces of evidence about the explosion, which evidence suggests was caused by a methane ignition fed by coal dust. The UMWA report notes the specific placement of a curtain in the mine, which could have directed fresh air directly to a methane monitor. This would have prevented the monitor from detecting unsafe levels of methane and shutting down equipment.

It also mentions the presence of a clean, undamaged methane sensor from an area damaged by the blast. The report implies the sensor could have been planted after the explosion by Massey officials who were underground at the time.

Massey Energy was sold to Alpha Natural Resources earlier this year.

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Rubbertown Explosion Update: Fire Still Burns

A small fire continues to burn at the chemical plant in the Rubbertown neighborhood more than two days after an explosion killed two workers.

Louisville fire crews went inside Carbide Industries yesterday to assess whether chemicals are contained. A team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is also investigating the accident.

The plant produces calcium carbide, which is used to manufacture acetylene gas and various other chemicals.

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Rubbertown Hotline To Be Upgraded

Louisville Metro Government officials say they’ll conduct a full investigation into the city’s response to Monday’s explosion and fire at a Rubbertown chemical plant.

The blast at the Carbide Industries plant killed two workers and injured two others.

Mayor Greg Fischer says the incident never posed any chemical danger to neighborhood residents, but police advised people to stay in their homes and close their windows for a time as a precaution. Some are upset that they weren’t quickly notified about the nature of the fire.

Fischer says he’s concerned that information about the incident was not posted in a timely manner on a phone system maintained by Rubbertown plants, and the city will now upgrade and back up the system.

Carbide Industries General Manager John Gant (pictured) says the delay was his company’s fault.

“It should have happened within half an hour and I think it happened within an hour and a half. That’s totally our responsibility, not the mayor’s not the health department, it’s the plant’s responsibility,’ he said.

The cause of the explosion, which originated  in a furnace, has not been determined.

Local News

Explosion Injures Worker, Damages Factory

Firefighters were called to a Louisville plant after an explosion there today (THURSDAY). WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

The explosion happened just after noon inside Nuplex Resins, a Louisville factory on Crittenden Drive, and injured one worker. It happened as a large kettle was being cleaned with solvents and caused a flash fire.

Henry Ott is chief of investigation for the Louisville Metro Arson Bureau.

“Vapors from a tank, which was being cleaned, escaped into other portions of the plant and were ignited,” Ott says. “It did approximately damage to 10 percent of the facility and injured one of their employees.”

The worker suffered second- and third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body and was taken to University Hospital.

Otts says the situation was quickly brought under control.

“The fire actually was extinguished by the sprinkler system within the building,” Ott says. “The fire department monitored the facility to make sure that there were no chemicals escaping, and the plant has been turned back over to plant personnel.”

Ott says the explosion damaged about 10 percent of the facility.

The factory houses Nuplex, a company that develops resin-based coatings.