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United States Chemical Safety
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  Incident Title
  Owner Charged in Fatal Minden Aerosol Plant Blast     
  Location Date of Incident
  Minden, NV, United States 9/17/2001- 7:40 AM
  CSB Incident Number NRC Report Number Board Ref. Number
  2001-5253 None Reported None Reported
  Current Status Date of Report Update
  No CSB Action 3/1/2002 - 12:39 PM
  Incident Types Location Types
  - Explosion
- Fire
Fixed Facility
  Evacuations Injuries Fatalities
  None Reported 5 1 (Estimate)
  Chemicals Involved
  None Reported
  Description or Latest Development
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Information Added: Friday, March 1, 2002 - 12:44 PM
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The owner of an aerosol can recycling plant where an explosion killed and injured employees last year has been charged with two felony counts of neglect and other charges alleging failure to maintain a safe workplace.

Deputy District Attorney Mike McCormick filed two class C felony counts against Walter Gonzales, owner of De-Pressurized Technologies International Inc., for ``neglect of duty in willful or wanton disregard of safety of persons or property.''

Gonzales also faces misdemeanor counts for failing to provide a hazardous materials management plan, explosion-proof wiring and a workplace free from hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. He's also accused of failing to provide approved ventilation and exhaust systems, systems for dilution of flammable gases and systems to prevent accumulation of static electricity.
If convicted, Gonzales could be sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison.

An investigation ``revealed that the recycling machine was not being used on the night of Sept. 17, 2001. Instead, the employees were confined to a metal cargo container box within the building with a ventilation system that consisted of a wooden hood and electric fan. Gonzales stated that he designed the system to remove the flammable gases that were released from the punctured cans.''

According to the report, gases had collected to the point where ``employees were literally saturated in explosive gas. ``Possible ignition sources for the explosion are the electric motor powered forklift, ventilation fan electric motor, or static electricity,'' the report states. ``The burn injuries, which are from the feet up, are consistent with a fuel vapor explosion.''

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Information Added: Friday, December 7, 2001 - 10:17 AM
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Depressurized Technologies International Inc. was sued in federal court Wednesday (12/05/2001) following an explosion at its Minden plant that caused the death of one worker and severe burns for several others.

The lawsuit was filed by Reno lawyers Jeff Dickerson and James Boles on behalf of Raul Gonzales Sanchez, Cecilio San Juan and Elias San Juan, all burned in the Sept. 17 explosion. The lawyers also represent Paula Lopez Bautista, widow of Jaimie Gonzales Sanchez who died following the blast.

The lawsuit seeks at least $225,000 in damages plus fees and costs, but Dickerson said that's a statutory minimum and "I wouldn't be surprised if we're in the millions by the time we get to trial."

The U.S. District Court lawsuit alleges Depressurized Technologies was negligent in failing to train the workers properly and gave them an "unprotected task that was inherently dangerous."

The litigation follows $144,000 in fines levied by the state's Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement Section.

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Information Added: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 - 3:26 PM
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Depressurized Technologies International Inc. has been hit with $144,000 in fines following an explosion at its Minden plant that resulted in the death of one worker and severe burns for four others.

The state's Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement Section, or OSHES, cited the company for numerous willful and serious violations of federal and state laws designed to protect workers. Violations ranged from ignoring hazardous processes and not taking necessary precautions to not providing medical evaluations or protective gear and not keeping records of work-related injuries. OSHES chief Tom Czehowski also said owners of the company failed to properly register the business.

Raul Gonzales, one of the seriously burned workers, has said the explosion occurred while workers were recycling liquids from the bottom of aerosol cans by punching holes in the bottom of cans with a spike.

But attorney Noel Manoukian, representing DPI owner Walter Gonzalez, said a worker may have sparked the deadly blast by removing a protective device from a machine. The lawyer also disputed claims that the workers were improperly trained and lacked supervision.

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Information Added: Tuesday, October 2, 2001 - 11:57 AM
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A coalition of community groups is calling on Gov. Kenny Guinn to establish a commission to investigate workplace safety.

The group also claims earlier reforms involving the regulation of businesses dealing with hazardous materials have not been taken seriously.

The coalition's request was prompted by the fatal explosion two weeks ago at Depressurized Technologies International, an aerosol recycling plant in Minden, said Tom Stoneburner, director of Reno-based Alliance for Workers' Rights.

One worker, Jamie Gonzales, 34, died last Tuesday at the burn unit at University Medical Center in Las Vegas. Another victim remains hospitalized in Las Vegas and three are at University of California at Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

At a news conference Monday, Stoneburner said state regulatory changes made after another deadly blast in 1998 involving hazardous materials seem to have been forgotten.

That explosion at Sierra Chemical, an explosives manufacturing plant east of Reno, killed four workers and injured six.  The incident was the subject of an investigation and comprehensive report by the Chemical Safety Board.  That report is available on the CSB website at http://www.chemsafety.gov.

``This is a reocurring nightmare,'' Stoneburner said. ``We can't keep putting our residents at risk and exposing them to this kind of danger.''

He was joined by representatives of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Nevada Hispanic Coalition, the Reno-Sparks Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville.

The advocates for workers' safety also brought up the 1988 explosion at Pacific Engineering and Production Co. in Henderson, in which two people were killed and more than 300 injured.

``Three times we've seen this in our state. How many more will there be?'' asked Nick Martinez, deputy state director of LULAC.

Regulatory guidelines ordered by then-Gov. Bob Miller _ with help from a 13-member state commission _ and subsequent reforms approved by the 1999 Nevada Legislature, need to be strictly followed to help avoid future disasters, Stoneburner said.

The changes focused on workplace training and plant inspections. ``A lot of people put a lot of effort into these reforms,'' Stoneburner said. ``Now we're hearing some things haven't been implemented and perhaps funding isn't even available.

``The tools are there. It's essential for them to be used.'' He urged Guinn to bring state agencies such as the Attorney Generals Office, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Division of Environmental Protection together with political and community leaders to deal with the issue.

Guinn spokesman Brian Catlett said the governor will consider the group's request.

In the case of the Minden plant, fire officials didn't know what kind of manufacturing operation they were responding to when they were called to the scene of the explosion.

Annual fire inspections are required of commercial buildings in Douglas County, but inspectors hadn't gotten to Depressurized before the explosion.

The business passed an inspection by state environmental regulators a few weeks before the explosion.

One of the burn victims has told authorities the workers were not adequately trained or supervised. But company owners Walter Gonzalez and his wife, Doris, contend proper training was provided.

Training was an issue after the Sierra Chemical explosion, when Latino workers, many who spoke little or no English, said they weren't given proper safety instructions.

One of the measures passed by the 1999 Legislature required workers to get annual safety training in their own language.

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INFORMATION ADDED 9/19/2001
======================================

Five people were injured following a series of explosions at a plant near Minden-Tahoe Airport.

The first explosion at Depressurized Technologies International Inc. occurred around 7:40 p.m. Monday, according to Dick Mirgon, Douglas County's emergency management director.

Several other blasts occurred in the moments that followed, blowing off the roof of the building, Mirgon said.

According to the company's website, DTI extracts paint and other solvents from aerosol containers for recycling.

The victims suffered second- and third-degree burns and were flown to burn units in Davis, Calif., and Las Vegas, where they were listed in critical but stable condition, officials said.

About 80 firefighters from Douglas County and Carson City responded to the scene. Mirgon said it took about an hour to get the fire under control.

Hazardous materials teams were also called.

Mirgon said state and federal officials would be involved in the investigation into the cause of the blast.

  Sources ( * indicates the original source) Source Details
 
  • Media - Associated Press *
  • 9/19/2001 0400EDT; 10-02-01 1131EDT; 11-08-01; 12-05-2001; 03-01-02 0947EST 

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