Jacksonville Plant Explosion at T2 Laboratories Started in Overheated Chemical ChamberJan 4, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Last month’s fatal Jacksonville plant explosion at T2 Laboratories produced a blast equivalent to the detonation of a ton of TNT, and most likely resulted from an overheated chemical chamber, investigators from the US Chemical Safety Board said yesterday. That steel cylindrical chamber, which stood 14 feet tall, was being used to mix chemicals for an ingredient in Ecotane, an octane-boosting gasoline additive that T2 Laboratories made at the Jacksonville plant.
The explosion at T2 Laboratories occurred 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 19. Witnesses to the Jacksonville plant explosion reported seeing a bright flash followed by a tremendous explosion. The blast was massive enough to blow open doors at a hotel several miles away, and shattered the windows of buildings nearby. Flames and a plume of smoke formed by the T2 Laboratories explosion shot at least 20 feet into the air, and could be seen for miles around.
T2 Laboratories makes gasoline additives and chemical solvents, and the chemicals used at the plant made the environment “incredibly dangerous for the first responders,” according to one Jacksonville Fire Department official. The official told the Associated Press that “explosions were generating all kinds of side brush fires and other kinds of blazes.” More than 70 firefighters and every hazardous-materials unit in Jacksonville reported to the scene, and crews used foam and other chemicals to fight the blaze.
The US Chemical Safety Board is charged with investigating what one member said "was among the most powerful ever examined" by the 10-year-old board. A liquid solution of methylcyclopentadiene was being mixed with metallic sodium inside the plant’s mixing chamber. Vapors from methylcyclopentadiene can ignite at 80 degrees, according to safety warnings for the chemical solution. An employee at a nearby sandblasting company who witnessed the T2 Laboratories explosion previously told a Jacksonville newspaper that a pipe ruptured at the top of a tower on the property and a white cloud appeared before the explosion. Robert Hall, lead investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said that rupture was caused by mounting pressure inside the chamber, which was designed to withstand force equal to "several thousand pounds" per square inch. When the chamber blew apart, pieces weighing hundreds of pounds were thrown up to a quarter-mile away. Hall said a huge fire that followed the explosion started when chemicals in the broken chamber were exposed to heat and oxygen
Four T2 Laboratories employees - co-owner Scott Gallagher and workers Karey Renard Henry Sr., Parrish Lamar Ashley and Charles Budds Bolchoz – died as a result of the Jacksonville plant explosion. At least 14 people were taken to hospitals, and one company employee remains hospitalized. People as far 750 feet away from the site of the Jacksonville plant explosion needed medical treatment, and buildings as far as 1,000 feet away sustained damage. At least three nearby businesses had buildings that city inspectors effectively closed because of their extensive damage.