Deadly Washington Refinery Blast Report Delayed

By PHUONG LE | January 30, 2014

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has delayed finalizing its investigative report into an April 2010 explosion that killed seven workers at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash., prompting criticism from its own members and others.

The federal agency said last month it would vote on a final investigation report at a public meeting Thursday in Anacortes. The board, which investigates chemical industrial accidents, is charged with making safety recommendations to prevent similar incidents.

Last week, it canceled a vote on a final report. Instead, it will hold a community-listening session and then take public comment during a 45-day period.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat, said he was exasperated by the board’s actions and called on the federal agency last week to quickly issue its report.

“The Anacortes community deserves better after four years of waiting and countless delays from the CSB (the board),” Larsen said in a letter sent Friday to Rafael Moure-Eraso, the board’s chairman.

Larsen said he was worried the draft report would not be released before Thursday’s meeting, limiting the time citizens would have to review its findings before commenting directly to board members.

“This is not a three-page book report that’s being handed out. It’s a highly technical report,” he said in an interview Monday.

Hershel Janz, whose son Lew Janz died from injuries sustained in the explosion, said he has been frustrated with the pace of the investigation.

“Nobody expected it to be done overnight because this was a major catastrophe,” said Janz, of Anacortes. “But they postponed it, postponed it, postponed. It’s been an awfully, awfully long time.”

The draft report is done and will be publicly released on Thursday as planned, board chairman Moure-Eraso wrote to Larsen Friday. He said a 45-day comment period means “the public will have more – not less – opportunity to have their voices heard on this critically important case.”

But the change to Thursday’s meeting came as a surprise to two of the three members of the board, who said in a letter to Larsen Monday that they learned about the change in the press.

“We are embarrassed by the pattern of unmet promises in response to a litany of communication from the Washington State Congressional delegation and the United Steelworkers (USW) Union,” board members Mark Griffon and Beth Rosenberg wrote to Larsen.

“The lack of urgency to complete this investigation is very troubling,” they said, adding that every day of delay will stall potential improvements to refinery safety that could protect workers in Washington state.

Last year, Larsen and other members of Washington’s congressional delegation a letter to federal investigators saying they were dismayed by the slow pace of the investigation and that the board redirected resources and personnel to work on other accidents.

Moure-Eraso told Larsen the investigative process has been “a technically difficult, complex, and research-intensive investigation that has been undertaken by a very limited staff.”

The deadly explosion at the Tesoro petroleum refinery in Anacortes on April 2, 2010, occurred when a nearly 40-year-old heat exchanger failed during a maintenance operation to switch a process stream between two parallel banks of exchangers.

The state Department of Labor and Industries issued a record $2.39 million fine, the largest in the agency’s history, against Tesoro. It cited the company for 39 willful and five serious violations of state workplace safety and health regulations.

Tesoro is currently appealing those findings before the state Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, state Labor and Industries spokeswoman Elaine Fischer said Monday.

Killed in the blast were: Daniel J. Aldridge, 50, of Anacortes; Matthew C. Bowen, 31, of Arlington; Darrin J. Hoines, 43, of Ferndale; Kathryn Powell, 29, of Burlington; Donna Van Dreumel, 36, of Oak Harbor; Matt Gumbel, 34, of Oak Harbor; and Lew Janz, 41, of Anacortes.

“I just think it’s important for people in the community to have some closure,” Larsen said.

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