OCTOBER 18, 2016
Workers using a blow torch to heat a holding-tank valve ignited the vapors of liquid asphalt, causing the explosion and fire that injured three people at Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions, Thomas Corners Fire Chief Gregg Petricca said on Tuesday.
Monday's explosion, which sent two people to the hospital with serious burns, is under investigation by federal labor officials. Six years ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Mohawk Asphalt $1,500 for a safety violation on a paving project.
At 1 p.m. Monday, workers were transferring liquid asphalt from a holding tank to a big rig when they took a blow torch to a valve, Petricca said. The torch ignited fumes from the combustible mix of kerosene, diesel fuel and tar, he said.
Petricca said he's not sure if blow torches are commonly used at the plant.
"I hope not," he said.
OSHA officials arrived at the 6 Freemans Bridge Road plant Monday and continued on Tuesday what is expected to be a six-month investigation.
"Our purpose right now is to determine if there were any violations of our safety and health regulation," OSHA's Albany office director Robert Garvey said.
Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions is owned by the Albany-based Gorman Group, a highway construction and materials company. Company officials have declined to discuss the incident but a lawyer for Gorman issued a brief statement Tuesday.
"Right now our thoughts, prayers and concerns are with our employees and their families," the Gorman Group said in the statement. "Once we have all the facts concerning the events which occurred at our Glenville facility, the information will be shared as appropriate."
Gorman Group operates the largest deep-water asphalt terminal on the East Coast, a rail facility terminal, asphalt emulsion-manufacturing plants, transportation facilities and engineering services, according to its website.
The company was cited for a "serious safety violation" in 2010 after a planned inspection focused on construction injury, amputation and fatality prevention.
OSHA fined the company $1,500 for failing to properly signal a paving project taking place on Route 302 in Ryegate, Vt.
Garvey said OSHA has no history with the Glenville plant, so this will be the first inspection by its agents at the facility.
OSHA inspects a workplace when there is an accident, fatality or imminent danger; when a programmed inspection is planned; or when a complaint or referral is made, Garvey said.
The federal agency has six months to complete its investigation into the Glenville asphalt plant.
Several fire crews battled the afternoon blaze Monday while paramedics treated three workers. One burn victim was taken by medical helicopter to Westchester Medical Center and another was taken by ambulance to Albany Medical Center Hospital. The names of the burn victims have not been released.
The third injured worker, Brian Jones, reached by phone Monday, said his injuries were minor. He declined further comment.
Glenville Supervisor Chris Koetzle praised the emergency crews for their quick response to what he described as a tragic accident and reassured town residents that there were no safety concerns.
The county hazmat team conducted air samples that came back clean, Petricca said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation said all runoff from the tank was kept from spilling into the nearby Mohawk River or surrounding areas.
Elmo's Auto Body Shop sits in the shadow of the plant and employees were shaken by the explosion. Technician Richie Bryan said he ran toward the fire when he heard the booms, pushing the thought of further explosions at a site dominated by large storage tanks out of his mind.
"It would be devastating to this neighborhood if those big tanks blew," he said.