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Safety board reviews ConAgra blast

Investigators survey the wreckage during recovery operations Wednesday, June 10, 2009, at ConAgra Foods Inc., in Garner, N.C. Authorities say they have found a third body inside a Slim Jim factory in North Carolina a day after an explosion wrecked the building. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chris Seward)
February 4, 2010 9:11:24 PM PST
Federal safety officials voted in Raleigh Thursday to pass a series of urgent safety recommendations following the deadly 2009 explosion at the Slim Jim snack factory.The U.S. Chemical Safety Board approved the recommendations Thursday night by a 2-1 vote.

The proposal recommends that national and international safety codes be changed to more strongly control gas-line purging. The suggested guidelines would require gas purges outside of a building or require an approved safety plan, such as the evacuation of nonessential personnel.

It comes after last summer's deadly explosion at the ConAgra plant in Garner that killed four people and injured 67.

On Thursday, the federal Chemical Safety Board said the cause of the explosion was simple; workers installing a water heater had flushed natural gas through new pipes and allowed it to build up indoors.

"If I had a burner on my stove, I would not open the burner on my stove and let the gases build up," CSB Chairman John Bresland said.

But federal investigators say so-called "indoor gas purging" is actually very common across industrial sites and the ConAgra blast triggered them to call for new rules to mandate outdoor ventilation.

"The changes are urgent, because hazards are wide-spread across industry," said Donald Holmstrom with the Chemical Safety Board.

But critics of the Chemical Safety Board say changes are long overdue.

Four previous explosions over the last decade across the nation were all caused by the same industrial practice of indoor venting of natural gas. Six people died and 56 were injured.

"It's especially saddening, because of the people who died in Garner and these explosions had already taken place," said Evan Yates with United Food Commercial Workers. "But what we need to do going forward is to make sure this never happens again."

The Chemical Safety Board did not investigate the four previous explosions. The CSB thoroughly probes only about 6 percent of major industrial explosions a year.

"Unfortunately, it took the tragedy here in Garner to get us here and make the recommendations that we are making today," CSB Chairman John Bresland said.

The track record of explosions surprised even Garner's mayor.

"It's been accepted and that's the problem," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "It's been accepted without much scrutiny. It does surprise me and it does set me back a little bit knowing that."

The recommendations that was passed Thursday, the CSB rejected just two months after the ConAgra blast.

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