Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Overheated Chamber Triggered T2 Blast; the Explosion Was Equal to about a Ton of TNT, the Lead Federal Investigator Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Overheated Chamber Triggered T2 Blast; the Explosion Was Equal to about a Ton of TNT, the Lead Federal Investigator Says

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

An overheated chemical chamber caused the T2 Laboratories Inc. explosion that killed four people and rocked a Northside Jacksonville neighborhood last month, a federal investigator said Thursday.

The explosion's force was equivalent to detonating about a ton of TNT, said Robert Hall, lead investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an agency investigating the blast. He said debris was thrown as much as a mile.

The blast "was among the most powerful ever examined" by the 10-year-old chemical board, Hall said.

The steel cylindrical chamber standing 14 feet tall was being used to mix chemicals for an ingredient in Ecotane, an octane-boosting gasoline additive that the company made at 3043 Faye Road.

It exploded Dec. 19 in what Hall described as "really an uncontrolled chemical reaction." Agency officials have said a liquid solution of methylcyclopentadiene was being mixed with metallic sodium.

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 blast previously told the Times-Union a pipe ruptured at the top of a tower on the property and a white cloud appeared before the explosion.

Hall 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, he said.

The pressurized chamber was designed to be heated to start the reaction, but then it had to be cooled as the chemicals mixing inside it released more heat, according to Stephen Selk, manager of investigations for the chemical board.

Hall said a huge fire that followed the explosion started when chemicals in the broken chamber were exposed to heat and oxygen. The chamber's volume was about 1,000 cubic feet, but investigators don't know how much material was inside when it exploded, he said.

Hall said investigators plan to use T2's Ecotane recipe to re-create a small sample of their product and carefully measure the chemical reactions as material is mixed. …

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