Lawmakers Seek Gas Code Changes After Report on North Carolina Explosion

February 23, 2010

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week for immediate changes to national safety codes after last year’s deadly explosion at a Slim Jim factory in North Carolina led federal investigators to issue industrywide warnings on gas-line purging.

A committee of the National Fire Protection Association will begin meeting this week to consider the matter. The next edition of the code isn’t scheduled for release until 2011, but the panel can issue interim amendments to the code on an emergency basis.

Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, asked code writers in a letterto “adopt a strong and effective” amendment next week.

“Following recent investigations, it has become clear that revision of the NFPA’s code is necessary to better prevent the needless loss of life associated with purging gas explosions,” Miller wrote in a letter along with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California lawmaker who chairs a Workforce Protections subcommittee.

Federal investigators have found that workers considered it common practice to purge gas pipes inside buildings, something that led to the explosion in June that killed four of the 300 people who were working inside the ConAgra Inc. plant outside Raleigh. A U.S. Chemical Safety Board probe found several other violent explosions linked to similar gas purging, including accidents in San Diego, Cheyenne, Wyo., Porterville, Calif., and Dearborn, Mich.

A Feb. 7 explosion at a power plant in Connecticut that killed six and injured 20 occurred as workers purged a natural gas line. The cause of that blast is under investigation.

North Carolina has already adopted emergency changes to its code. Miller and Woolsey want national code writers to require that gas pipes be purged outdoors whenever possible and that workers who must purge indoors follow several safety steps, including the evacuation of non essential personnel and the use of gas meters.

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