Local News

Safety board closing ConAgra plant blast probe

Posted June 24, 2010 3:26 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. Chemical Safety Board plans to close its investigation into the fatal explosion in Garner last year so that it can turn its attention to the oil rig blast in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the nation's largest oil spill.

The June 9, 2009, explosion at the ConAgra Foods Inc. plant killed three workers and injured dozens of others. An outside contractor also died last fall after suffering extensive burns in the blast.

Federal investigators determined the Garner plant blast was caused by contractors venting natural gas inside the facility while installing a water heater.

The Chemical Safety Board has called for safety codes used by the National Fire Protection Association and the American Gas Association to require that natural gas be vented outdoors when gas lines are purged. The board's recommendation also calls for the use of combustible gas detectors to continuously monitor gas concentrations.

North Carolina later voted to enact emergency changes to its code, adopting the new safety suggestions. ConAgra also changed its rules to match the stiffer suggestions.

Officials said the Chemical Safety Board would wrap up its investigation Monday after Congress asked the board to look into the April 20 blast at the Transocean oil drilling platform operated by BP that led to the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

ConAgra officials announced in March that the plant, which reopened last August, would close by September 2011 because the explosion cut into its capacity to produce Slim Jim beef jerky products. The closure will eliminate about 450 jobs.