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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Investigators Probe Explosion That Injured 2

Inquiry: One employee remains in critical condition. Cal/OSHA is trying to determine what caused blast at factory that makes air-bag triggers.

September 06, 2000|JENIFER RAGLAND | PECIAL TO THE TIMES

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of an explosion at a Moorpark company last week that injured two workers, one of whom remains in critical but stable condition at Simi Valley Hospital.

Frank Snider, 26, of Simi Valley suffered extensive injuries in the explosion Friday morning at Special Devices Inc., which makes triggering devices for air bags. Alicia Gonzalez, a hospital spokeswoman, said Snider had part of his right arm and hand amputated as well as his left index finger. He also is being treated for a left leg fracture and chemical burns and cuts to his abdomen, face and chest, she said.

Snider's mother has declined to speak to reporters about her son's accident.

Jeremiah Calixtro, 32, of Moorpark was released Saturday morning from Los Robles Regional Medical Center after undergoing surgery for a deep abrasion on his right hand, hospital officials said.

A special team of Cal/OSHA investigators from the Process Safety Management division--which handles investigations on workplaces that deal with acutely dangerous materials--is looking into what caused the explosion and what, if anything, the company must do to prevent future accidents, said Cal/OSHA spokesman Richard Stephens.

At the time of the accident, Snider and Calixtro were loading a highly explosive powder known as zirconium potassium perchlorate into a machine that inserts it into the air-bag trigger. Two company employees have died and seven have been injured in the last two decades in explosions related to the chemical, according to Cal/OSHA records.

Steve Baker, Ventura County Fire Department hazardous materials officer, said preliminary indications are that the chemical was ignited by a static charge in the room. Because the substance is so volatile, the electric charge could come from something as simple as pouring water into a glass.

"With real sensitive chemicals, that's all it takes," he said.

To keep the powder from exploding so easily, it must be kept moist, Baker said. This can be done by increasing the humidity in a room to as much as 33%, he said.

Stephens said Cal/OSHA investigators have not yet discovered anything at the facility that presents an "imminent danger" to workers, which is the only way the company could be required to halt use of the chemical before the investigation is complete--which could be six months away.

Meanwhile, officials at Special Devices--which resumed operations Tuesday--say the safety procedures they have in place will protect their employees. No changes in policy are being considered, said company spokesman Allan Mayer.

"Until it becomes clear something is amiss with the procedures--and that's not the case yet--we're confident we can keep people safe," Mayer said.

Doug Beach of the county's Environmental Health Division said Special Devices is the only company in the county that uses zirconium potassium perchlorate. Its use at the Moorpark facility is regulated by the Fire Department, Baker said.

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