T2 Laboratories Explosion Investigators Eye Octane Booster MixDec 27, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Last Wednesday’s fatal Jacksonville Plant Explosion at T2 Laboratories might have been caused by problems with a chemical mix. Reports have surfaced that investigators looking into the T2 Laboratories explosion have said that something went wrong while octane booster was being mixed at the Jacksonville, Florida chemical plant.
The explosion at T2 Laboratories occurred 1:30 p.m. on December 19. Witnesses to the Jacksonville plant explosion reported seeing a bright flash followed by a tremendous explosion. The explosion 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. The blast was so violent that safety officers were inspecting earthquake-like damage to surrounding businesses to see if and when they will be allowed to reopen.
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. Police cordoned off the area near Faye Road, closed off highway exits to the site and set about evacuating office workers from the city’s industrial section. Both the fire fighting efforts and the evacuation lasted for several hours. The fire from the Jacksonville plant explosion was so intense that two of the dead could not be recovered until the following day.
Six federal agencies, led by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, are investigating the T2 Laboratories explosion. Those investigators have been joined by Jacksonville homicide detectives and the Florida Fire Marshall’s office. While it will likely be months before a final cause of the Jacksonville explosion is determined, Florida Senator Bill Nelson told media outlets that problems with a chemical mixing process is being eyed as a prime suspect. Nelson said that investigators told him that something went wrong while octane booster was being mixed at the chemical plant. "This octane booster ... is a fairly stable product, but to get to it, you use these highly energetic chemicals," Nelson told a Jacksonville TV station. "A lot of heat is generated and a chemical process starts that can get in a runaway condition."
The explosion and resulting fire at T2 Laboratories killed four people and injured 14 others. Robert Scott Gallagher, co-owner of the facility, was among the dead. Also killed were Charles Budds Bolchoz, 48; Karey Renard Henry, 35; and Parrish Lamar Ashley, 36.