United States Chemical Safety
and Hazard Investigation Board
Concludes Toner-Cartridge Dust Played Role
in Fatal Explosion, $4-million Plus Damage
CA, United States
of Report Update
- 6:54 PM
or Latest Development
Information Added: Thursday, April 26, 2001
- 6:54 PM
Investigators for the California Division
of Occupational Safety and Health said that
the explosion and fire that claimed one
life was related to an accumulation of toner-cartridge
dust. They said an electrostatic charge
in a grinder at the company may have ignited
the explosive toner dust used in copy machines,
causing the fire that killed a 26-year-old
fork lift operator.
Cal/OSHA fined the company more than $221,000
for, among other items, failing to prevent
the dust from accumulating and failing to
warn the employees of its fire hazards.
Sam Singer, a spokesman for the company,
complained that some of the fines "are high"
but said the company was working with Cal/OSHA
to prevent similar fires.
MBA Polymers recycles plastic items such
as computer cases, telephones and toner
cartridges and is considered a pioneer in
the field. But the company has
cut its staff by half and reduced the amount
of plastic it recycles each month from 700,000
pounds as it revises operations to improve
safety, Singer said.
Information Added: Friday, November 3, 2000
- 1:04 PM
Richmond Fire Battalion Chief Jim Fajardo
said Wednesday that he is revising upward
the plant damage estimate to between $4
and $5 million.
One piece of recently purchased equipment
damaged in the incident cost the company
more than $1 million.
Information Added: Tuesday, October 31,
2000 - 2:14 PM
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District
(BAAQMD) reported that although the smoke
from this incident contained elevated levles
of toxic compounds, it still fell below
safety thresholds set by the state's Environmental
Nearly 200 people sought medical attention
for smoke inhalation last Thurdsay, and
some health advocates were concerned about
the effects on a community dogged by a series
of oil refinery accidents in recent years,
while questioning efforts to alert residents
to the fire.
More than 100 people were treated at Kaiser
Permanente Medical Center and about 80 were
seen at Doctors medical centers in Pinole
and San Pablo for respiratory distress.
Elevated levels of toxics like benzene and
1,3-butadiene, both commonly found in burning
gasoline, as well as toluene and xylene,
turned up. But the compounds
measured one-quarter to one-half of California
"It's not bad, but it's not great either,"
said Terry Lee, a spokeswoman for the BAAQMD
But Karen Susag, community health advocate
for Communities for A Better Environment
in Oakland, said she is concerned that high
levels of dioxin - which the federal EPA
has said may cause cancer and which have
been linked to other health problems --
might have escaped in the blaze.
"I would be most concerned about the other
workers there," Susag said. "They
potentially got a large dose of chemicals,
and they are going to have to watch out
for their health".
Meanwhile, Doris Silva, an environmental
activist from Point Richmond, said she didn't
think attempts to alert nearby residents
to the smoky fire were enough. She
said many residents received phone calls
too late over an emergency notification
Information Added: Friday, October 27, 2000
- 4:20 PM
Black plumes of toxic smoke rose into the
sky above Richmond, forcing 12 schools to
shut down, businesses to evacuate and shelter-in-place
warnings for residents and workers.
One man was killed in the 2 a.m. explosion
at MBA Polymers, a 90,000-square-foot plastics
More than 200 people, including factory
workers and firefighters, crowded area hospitals
with complaints of irritated throats and
eyes, headaches and other ailments.
Coroner's officials said they will not know
the cause of death until the autopsy today
It was the sixth time in four years that
Contra Costa has faced a major accident
at an industrial factory or refinery. The
fire was hot, and the smoke was black and
acrid, said Richmond Battalion Chief James
"We treated it like what it was, a plastic
fire in a warehouse," Fajardo said. "We
cooled it and then we smothered it with
The morning sky Thursday was full of smoke
for thousands of schoolchildren and parents,
workers near the factory and residents who
fell victim to the whims of a shifting wind
that caught many by surprise.
Just before 7 a.m., about 2,400 employees
of the Chevron Refinery and adjacent facility
were sheltering-in-place after the shifting
winds sent smoke toward the refinery. Employees
who had to work outside used respirators.
Toll workers on the Richmond-San Rafael
bridge were also notified about 9:45 a.m.
to leave their booths and take shelter from
the smoke, leaving drivers with a free ride
across the bridge.
County officials said they did not think
the smoke would cause acute health problems.
An all-clear was issued at 12:08 p.m., said
Jim Gallagher of the county's hazardous
Had the wind been blowing east after the
explosion, instead of toward the Bay, "it
could have gotten ugly," said Lew Pascalli,
director of the county's hazardous materials
More than 50 firefighters responded to the
32-foot-high single-story warehouse, including
those from Richmond, Chevron and Contra
Costa. The middle section was burned and
the roof collapsed. Fajardo estimated the
damage at nearly $2 million.
State officials were investigating the cause
of the accident Thursday.
An air sample near the explosion showed
increased levels "of what we'd expect to
see in the burning of plastic: benzene,
butane, toluene and xylene," said Terry
Lee of the Bay Area Air Quality Management
District, which could fine the company.
Those levels, she said, only reached about
"a quarter to a half" of state Environmental
Protection Agency standards. The air district
could fine the company up to $25,000 for
causing a public nuisance and could cite
it for air emissions.
The company has no record of penalties by
either state or regional environmental agencies.
The Bay Air Quality Management District,
in fact, did not consider emissions at the
facility large enough to require a pollution
The plastic emits toxic fumes when burned,
but the plastic itself is not subject to
strict reporting requirements for releases,
said Eric Jonsson, a county hazardous materials
Sam Singer, a company spokesman, said MBA
was working with new technology it recently
installed to grind and separate recyclable
"Whether that had any part in the explosion,
nobody knows," he said.
Singer said the company is "deeply saddened"
by Spritz's death. "He was someone everyone
was close to and was a talented young man."
He said the company would pay for screenings
at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Richmond
if people believe they suffered from the
explosion. Singer also said the company,
which employs 75 people, planned to remain
"We've had a real setback here," said a
dejected Paul Allen, one of the company's
One MBA employee, Anthony Johnson of San
Pablo, said he was standing on a step ladder
inside the factory when he saw smoke and
then heard an explosion right near a large
machine, although he wasn't sure what it
was or how it worked. There were about a
dozen people in the factory at the time,
"They (led) us to believe that if anything
was going wrong with that machine it would
automatically shut down," said Johnson,
33. "Obviously, that's not what happened."
When the wind shifted south about 9:15 a.m.,
employees near Canal and Cutting rushed
to their cars and headed out of the area.
Many wore masks. By 9:30 a.m., the streets
were jammed with cars. Some left on their
own. County health workers evacuated others.
Kaiser, Doctors Medical Center San Pablo
and the Richmond Health Center treated 240
people who came to the emergency room complaining
of irritated throats and eyes. Everyone
was then released.
Since 1995, at least five refinery chemical
releases, fires and accidents have forced
West County students to stay inside or go
home, including two at the Chevron refinery
in 1999. Schools will be open today.
( * indicates the original source)
Costa Times, 10/27/2000;San Fran. Examiner
via NewsEdge 10/27/00; Bay City News Svc
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