Articles Posted in Explosions

Four people were injured Thursday in a chemical plant explosion at the Dow Chemical facility in North Andover. The four victims were suffering from burns involving the chemical Trimethylaluminum, a physician at Lawrence Memorial Hospital told WBZ. One of the victims was being treated there. Three others were taken to Boston trauma centers by Medflight helicopter.

In 2013, a worker was killed in an explosion at the same facility.

Chemical explosions like the one in North Andover are tragic and life-changing for victims and families. Breakstone, White & Gluck recently represented the family of an electrician who was tragically killed in 2010 by a propane explosion. Read why the investigation into this case – and many explosion cases – are challenging:

About Breakstone, White & Gluck’s Experience

Attorney Marc Breakstone represented the family of an electrician named William “Billy” Nichols, who was killed in a propane gas explosion while working in a Norfolk condominium in 2010. Nichols, 46, was buried under burning debris for 97 minutes before he was rescued by local firefighters. He had severe burns over 80 percent of his body and was transported by Medflight helicopter to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he later died of his injuries.

Mr. Nichols’ death was the result of negligence on the part of EnergyUSA and Smolinsky Plumbing and Heating. EnergyUSA negligently under-filled a propane gas tank while Smolinsky Plumbing and Heating failed to tighten a furnace connection which led to the leak of the undetectable propane gas which caused the explosion.

Attorney Breakstone obtained a $7.5 million settlement from the companies following an investigation which revealed that EnergyUSA had also sold its assets to a publicly-traded company to avoid paying punitive damages to the victim’s family in a likely jury trial. Attorney Breakstone was able to obtain a court-order to freeze the remaining assets.

Materials from the case:

Norfolk Propane Explosion Victim’s Family Files Lawsuit Against Gas Company and Plumber.

Norfolk Propane Explosion Victim’s Family Files Lawsuit Against Gas Company and Plumber.

National Safety Alert on Propane Handling Recommendations, published by the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

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As a direct result of the tragic death of Breakstone, White & Gluck client William Nichols in a propane gas explosion in July 2010, a leading federal agency has issued a safety alert regarding nationwide measures to prevent catastrophic propane gas explosions.

On July 17, 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a national safety alert in the Federal Register which warns the public of the risks associated with under-odorization of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). It also advises shippers and carriers on recommended procedures for ensuring that LPG is properly odorized on all modes of transportation.

Propane gas grill fire

For many of us, Fourth of July celebrations start with a barbecue grill. Many are powered by a propane gas tank and require special care in handling. Propane is an invisible, but highly flammable gas which can trigger an explosion if it leaks and comes into contact with fire. 

When grills are not properly used or maintained or are left unattended, accidents can occur. There are several safety concerns associated with grills, including propane leaks, cooking burns and fires. In the last year, there have also been a few product recalls involving grills.

Propane Gas Leaks and Explosions
Protect your propane gas tank from leaks. Take care when transporting it to your refilling station. Place it in a secure box and return it immediately home after filling it. Have it inspected annually by a qualified professional.

Store the propane gas tank outside your home. Also keep it away from your garage or any deck attached to your home. These areas may seem safe to use because they are not living areas, but according to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than half of all residential grilling fires in the U.S. begin on porches, terraces, exterior balconies and similar areas.

Grilling Burns and Structure Fires
When grilling, the safest solution is to stay outside your home or apartment building, as far away as you can.

This protects your home as well as your guests and young children who are too often victims of grilling burns. According to the National Fire Protection Association, children under age 5 accounted for about one quarter of all thermal burn injuries in 2007. Many of these burns occur when children are curious and touch or bump up against the grill.

If you live in an apartment building or multi-unit dwelling, you may also want to check with your property manager and city and town offices for additional information. Massachusetts state law does permit use of propane grills on first floor porches only, but some cities have gone a step further. For instance, the city of Boston does not permit either propane or charcoal grills above ground floor porches. Grilling on rooftops is not permitted either.

Before heading out to the grill, review the manufacturer’s instructions first. If you no longer have the instructions, check if they are available on the manufacturer’s website.

Use long-handled grilling tools and avoid wearing loose clothing. Work neat and remove grease and fat build-up from the grills.

Finally and most important, never leave the grill unattended. If you need to step away for a minute, finish up your cooking and turn the grill off.

Grill Recalls
Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission and your manufacturer’s website to see if there have been any recalls involving your grill. When a grill is recalled, you may be asked to return it to the manufacturer or retailer for a refund or be given instructions to replace a part.

In April 2012, more than 87,000 gas grills sold in the U.S. were recalled by One World Technologies, and another 1,400 in Canada. The company offered consumers a replacement regulator after receiving 569 reports its grills were leaking propane gas. The defective grills were sold at Home Depot stores nationwide and Directory Tools Factory Outlet stores from March 2011 through February 2012.

No injuries were reported at the time of the recall.

Another recall came in November 2012, when 37,000 Master Forge Gas Grills sold at Lowe’s Stores were recalled due to fire and burn hazards. In that case, consumers were asked to contact the manufacturer, Guangdong Vanward Electric Co., Ltd., of China, for revised instructions and a warning label that showed how to properly install the hose and regulator.

At the time of the recall, the manufacturer reported two reports of hoses melting and rupturing, but no injuries. The defective product was sold at Lowe’s stores nationwide from November 2011 through May 2012.

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State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said human error is to blame for the massive gas explosion in Springfield which injured 21 people, damaged three dozen buildings and leveled a night club.

The explosion at Scores Gentlemen’s Club on Worthington Street ignited Friday after Columbia Gas of Massachusetts sent crews to investigate a report of a gas odor. One worker accidentally punctured a gas line at the foundation of the building with a metal probing tool. The company said there were older gas line markings on the nearby sidewalk which were incorrect.

State and local officials held a press conference Sunday and announced Columbia Gas had performed a block-by-block investigation of the area and determined the city’s gas systems are now safe and functioning.

Coan said they have determined the source of the fuel and activities which led to the gas explosion. He said the state Department of Public Utilities will continue the investigation into Columbia Gas related to their response to the incident.

Coan said investigators have not determined the source of the initial odor and may not be able to now that the building is no longer standing. But he said there was no leak of gas from the main in the street.

“We have determined that human error, as opposed to a fault in the gas infrastructure, is what the cause of the explosion was,” he said.

He also said there were too many possible ignition sources inside the multi-story building to identify what had triggered the gas explosion.

Those sent to the hospital include 12 of the 14 Springfield firefighters who initially responded. All have been released. News reports say others injured include gas workers, a water and sewer worker and a local TV cameraman.

Today, residents and business owners gathered at Springfield City Hall carrying lists of lost personal belongings and damaged property. Columbia Gas has promised to cover the expenses, city officials say.

Springfield explosion cause: ‘Human error,’ Massachusetts fire marshal says, The Republican.

Raw Video: Springfield Gas Explosion, The Boston Globe.
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fire.jpgThere are more than 3,300 natural gas leaks in Boston’s aging underground pipelines, a new Boston University study has found. Six areas had gas levels which exceeded the amount needed to trigger a gas explosion.

Those gas leaks were repaired while no action has been taken on the others, which the state Department of Public Utilities and gas companies described as a small risk for gas explosions. Dorchester had the largest number of gas leaks, 951 breaks over 158 miles of cast-iron gas mains. However, several areas had a greater number of leaks per mile, including East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Brighton, Charlestown and South Boston.

The study into gas leaks and explosion risks was conducted by an associated professor from Boston University’s Department of Earth and Environment and a researcher from Duke University. It was recently published in the journal Environmental Pollution and reported on by the Boston Globe.

The two researchers drove all 785 miles of Boston’s streets to test the air for methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas. The two measured for methane levels which exceeded 2 parts per million – the normal amount in the air.

Natural gas is colorless and odorless, but uses the chemical additive mercaptan which emits a distinct rotten eggs odor to signal a leak. Gas leaks can occur in several ways, often when underground pipes crack as they age or in cold weather or when a pipe is struck by construction equipment.

Some people want to hold gas companies more accountable for fixing gas leaks in Massachusetts. A bill sponsored by state Representative Lori Ehrlich of Marlbehead would require a timeline for fixing the most serious leaks. Utilities would be required to notify police and fire of the gas leak locations. The bill unanimously passed the House of Representatives in June and is now before the state Senate.

The Conservation Law Foundation plans to release a report on natural gas leaks soon. An official suggested the state could require timelines for gas companies to repair various grades of leaks and improve accelerated reimbursement rates for gas companies that replace old gas lines.


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turkey.jpgThanksgiving dinner is the largest meal of the year for many families, the one that takes the most planning and time to prepare. As you work in the kitchen, remember Thanksgiving is also the nation’s leading day for kitchen fires and when burns and cooking injuries are more likely to occur. The good news is you can prevent most of these accidents and focus on enjoying the day by following a few simple steps below. We have also included safety precautions for deep frying a turkey.

Make sure your smoke detector is working. Test it in advance and do not disable it.

Use a cooking timer. This will help you keep track of when to check the turkey and when other food dishes are finished.

Stay home while cooking. Stay home and check the turkey frequently.

Cooking stovetop. Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking stovetop. If you must leave, turn the stove off.

Keep children away. Keep children at least three feet away from the stove at all times.

Hot food and liquids. Make sure children also stay away from hot food and liquids, which can cause burn injuries. This includes coffee, gravy and the steam and sauce on vegetables – especially when they first come out of the oven or off the stove.

Neat kitchen. Keep clutter to a minimum near the stove. Set aside oven mitts, towels and other utensils. Do not leave sharp knives or utensils out where young children can reach them. Ask guests to put their belongings in another area.

Keep matches, lighters and candles away. Lock matches and utility lighters in cabinets away from children. Also do not use candles if you have young children in the home.

Use a commercial cooking bag. Do not cook your turkey in a brown paper bag from the grocery store. They are unsanitary and may start a fire.

Tips if you are deep frying your turkey:

Read the instructions. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the turkey fryer before each use.

Understand your propane gas burner. Ask your propane gas provider about safe practices to prevent fires and explosions.

Wear safety gear. Wear safety glasses, gloves which stretch to your elbows, a long-sleeved shirt and an apron.

Deep fry your turkey outside. Set up your fryer in an open area, away from your house, garage, decks and other structures.

Select a smaller turkey. Use a turkey that is 12 pounds or less in size.

Do not stuff the turkey. Stuffing the turkey could interfere with even cooking.

Do not use too much oil. Determine the right amount of oil in advance by placing the turkey in the fryer. Fill with water to the top. Remove the turkey and measure the amount of water remaining. Use the same amount of oil. Your fryer may also have a measurement line inside.

Fully thaw the turkey. Burn injuries can occur when any water on the turkey comes in contact with the oil, then boils over or splatters while being cooked. Fully thaw the turkey and dry it off with paper towels before deep frying.

Turn off the fryer before adding the turkey. Warm up the fryer before cooking, then turn it off just before putting the turkey inside. Start cooking again after it is firmly in place.

Thanksgiving Safety, National Fire Protection Association.

Cooking Safety, National Fire Protection Association.
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marcbreakstone_125.jpgAttorney Marc L. Breakstone of Breakstone, White & Gluck in Boston has announced a $7.5 million settlement has been reached for an electrician killed in a propane gas explosion at a Norfolk, Massachusetts condominium complex.

Breakstone and the family of William “Billy” Nichols announced the settlement on July 9, nearly two years after Nichols died in the July 30, 2010 propane explosion. Breakstone represented the Nichols family and filed a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf against EnergyUSA Propane and Smolinsky Brothers Heating and Plumbing.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleged EnergyUSA negligently underfilled a new propane tank at the complex where Nichols had been working. By underfilling the tank, the company caused the chemical odorant to fade, making propane undetectable when it started to leak.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleged Smolinsky Brothers Heating and Plumbing carelessly failed to tighten a connection to the furnace which led to the leak of the undetectable propane gas.

Breakstone called the propane explosion a “terrible tragedy that could easily have been avoided.” Nichols, 46, of Blackstone, was buried under burning debris for 97 minutes before he was rescued by local firefighters. He was crushed by smoldering debris, had severe burns over 80 percent of his body and called on rescuers to say goodbye to his fiance and other family members. He was transported by MedFlight helicopter to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he died that evening from the burns and injuries.

During litigation, Breakstone said he discovered EnergyUSA Propane sold its assets to a publicly-traded energy company for $66.8 million to avoid the likelihood of paying punitive damages in a jury trial. Breakstone obtained a court-order freeze on the remaining company cash assets.

As a result of Nichols’ death, Massachusetts is expected to introduce new regulations this fall which will ensure better safety training for propane delivery personnel as well as require newly installed propane storage tanks be filled to the maximum liquid level to avoid the odorant fade problem that caused this propane explosion.

Click for coverage in The Boston Globe, WBZ-TV, WCVB and Wicked Local.

Click here to read the July 9, 2012 media release.

Click here to read the statement from Norfolk Fire Chief Coleman C. Bushnell.
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grilling-2012-180.jpgWhen the warm weather returns, many people look forward to grilling and choose propane gas grills. While these grills offer many advantages, propane is a highly combustible hydrocarbon gas which is compressed into a liquid form and placed inside a tank. It can explode in certain conditions, such as in a fire or with a tank leak.

Some 6,500 barbecue grill fires injure Americans each year, accounting for a property loss of over $27 million, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The majority of these grill fires result from accidents and explosions related to malfunctioning gas grills.

Now as you set your grill up for the summer is the best time to learn how to properly clean and handle your propane gas tank and grill. The Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck offer these tips to help you grill safely:

  • Propane is an odorless gas with an odorant called ethanethiol added to help detect leaks. If you are near a propane tank and smell this gas, leave immediately and call your town’s fire department.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions for your grill and if you need, contact customer support.
  • Transport your propane tank to the refill station or hardware store in a standing position. Use a box or carrying case.
  • Drive directly to and from the hardware store or refill facility. Do not make other stops.
  • Store the propane gas tank outside your home with the grill and do not take it inside for any reason. This includes not taking it inside your garage or porch or leaving it on a deck attached to your home.
  • Operate your propane gas grill and tank as far away from your home as possible.
  • Most grills are now made with a safety device that prevents gas flow when the tank is disconnected. But always make sure your propane tank valve is closed when you disconnect to prevent fires and explosions.
  • If you are having trouble heating your grill, do not keep raising the temperature. Check your manufacturer’s manual for instructions or call the company’s customer service phone number.
  • Have propane gas equipment inspected periodically by a professional for possible leaks or malfunctioning parts. This will help prevent an explosion.
  • Check your manufacturer’s manual for cleaning instructions. Turn the grill off and wait until it is cool. Lift the cover, inspect cooking surfaces and remove the cooking grids and spray with mild oven cleaner.

Propane Safety, National Fire Protection Association
What To Do After An Explosion
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treedamage.jpgNow that Tropical Storm Irene has passed, residents and businesses throughout Massachusetts have started the extensive clean-up. Many remain without power.

An estimated 4.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast lost power, including 700,000 in Massachusetts, officials reported. Utility and state officials estimate it may take several days to restore power in some communities.

The storm caused 26 deaths across the country. In Massachusetts, a public works employee on his way to join recovery efforts was electrocuted Monday by a downed power line outside his Southbridge home.

From Storrow Drive in Boston to Interstate 91 in western Massachusetts, many roads were shut down by flooding. Residents in several communities were evacuated from their homes, including in several western Massachusetts towns, Southboro and New Bedford,

Whether you are cleaning up your yard, driving or waiting for power to be restored, it is essential to think safety for you, your family and property. Here are safety tips from the Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck:

  • Be prepared for intersections without working traffic lights or police officers to direct cars.
  • When driving, travel farther behind the vehicle in front of you than normal. Road detours and single-lane roads may not be visible until just before you reach them.
  • Give even more room when traveling behind tractor trailers carrying heavy loads of branches and storm debris.
  • If your home is still without power, make sure you have enough flashlights and plenty of extra batteries. Avoid using candles.
  • Natural gas or propane valves that have been under water should be replaced. Smell and listen for leaky gas connections that may trigger an explosion.
  • If you believe there has been a gas leak, there is risk for a home explosion. Immediately leave the house, leave the doors open and contact a gas system professional before you return.
  • Take measures to avoid food poisoning. Throw away any refrigerated foods that are held at above 40 degrees for more than two hours. Food can generally keep for up to 4 hours in a refrigerator that is not opened and between 24 to 48 hours in a freezer.
  • Watch news reports to see if your local health department has cleared tap water for safe consumption. If you are without power and cannot watch television or access the Internet, call your town or city hall to ask.
  • Watch out for and stay away from downed power lines.
  • Do not enter and avoid walking near damaged buildings.
  • Be careful walking under trees as there may be loose branches.

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grill.jpgAs families across the country celebrate Independence Day this weekend, many will enjoy tasty barbeques.

Family gatherings should be fun, but grilling can be dangerous without proper safety precautions. Each year, an estimated 3,800 people in the U.S. are treated in emergency rooms for burns, carbon monoxide poisoning and other injuries related to grilling, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Grill safely with our tips for your holiday cookout:

  • At the start of each season, inspect a gas grill’s hoses for signs of cracking, holes and evidence of animal bites or insects. Replace damaged parts.
  • Make sure the grill is clean before using. Regularly clean it throughout the season as described in the owner’s manual.
  • Always use grills outside.
  • Never leave a grill unattended.
  • Keep children away from the grill area. The outside surface of a grill can burn a children’s hands.
  • If a grease fire occurs, turn off the gas grill and use baking soda or a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze.
  • Never store or use flammable liquids such as gasoline near a grill.
  • Check the CPSC website to make sure you are not using a recalled grill.

Charcoal Grill Safety

  • There are several ways to start a charcoal grill, including starter fluid, charcoal chimney starters and electric charcoal starters. Choose one method and become knowledgeable about it before starting your grill.
  • If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.
  • Store charcoal starter fluid out of reach of children and away from heat sources.
  • When you are finished grilling, let the charcoals completely cool before disposing them in a metal container.

Propane Tank Grilling Safety

  • Transport your propane tank to the refill station or hardware store in a standing position. Use a box or order a special carrying case. Do not let passengers hold the tank. Do not do other errands when you are getting your propane tank filled.
  • Never take a propane gas tank inside the refill facility or your home because of the risk for a gas explosion.
  • Be sure the propane tank valve is closed when you disconnect it from the grill. Newer propane tanks have a safety device that will prevent gas flow from the tank when it is disconnected. But it is still a good idea to make sure the valve is closed.
  • When you connect your propane tank to your grill, if you see fog or smell gas, it is a sign of a leak. This means there is a risk for a gas explosion. Stop what you are doing, move your family away from the property and contact your local fire department.
  • Another way to test for a propane tank leak before each season is to open the gas supply valve fully. Apply a soapy solution with a brush at the connection point. If bubbles appear, there is a leak. Try tightening the tank’s connection to see if the leak stops or contact a qualified gas professional.

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