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Two Killed, At Least 18 Hurt In Chemical Explosion

January 18, 1986

ASHTABULA, Ohio (AP) _ A tank containing 2,000 pounds of a caustic chemical exploded Friday, killing two people, injuring at least 18 and sending a green chemical cloud into the air.

The late-morning explosion at the Diamond Shamrock Corp. plant also caused a small fire. Rain and wind from the south helped break up the chemical cloud and carry it over Lake Erie, where it posed no danger, said Allan Franks, chief of the public interest center for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

He said he was unaware of any evacuations in the industrial area of Ashtabula Township.

Ammonium dichromate apparently ignited in a rotary vacuum dryer unit, but it was not known what caused the ignition, said Ginger Shearburn, a company spokeswoman in Dallas. The dryer unit represents one step in the process of making chemicals, she said.

The cloud from an ammonium dichromate explosion could be an irritant and could cause burns if it came into contact with people, Franks said.

Franks said there was some structural damage to the plant. He said about 2,000 pounds of the chemical was involved in explosion.

The plant in northeast Ohio, which makes chemicals for the agricultural, pharmaceutical and paint industries, employs 60 people, although an unspecified number of workers with outside contractors may have been in the plant, Ms. Shearburn said.

Harry Roncaglione, 55, an employee of Overhead Door Co. who was working at the plant when the explosion occurred, was hospitalized with a cut on his hand.

″I don’t normally work at the plant, so I don’t have the slightest idea what happened. It was a real big boom,″ he said. ″It got so dusty, I couldn’t see a thing.″

Two men were dead on arrival at Ashtabula County Medical Center, which also treated seven plant employees, five other workers and two firefighters injured in the explosion, said hospital spokesman Leonard Forinash.

The dead were identified by Ashtabula County Coroner Robert Malinowski as William J. Smith, 29, of Conneaut and Lloyd A. Harley, 54, of Ashtabula. Both were employees of Diamond Shamrock.

At least one of the people hospitalized was not working in the plant when the blast occurred. Andrew Ceder, 61, a Conrail employee who was repairing railroad cars across from the plant, was hospitalized for observation because he was caught in the cloud of gas.

A person in critical condition was flown from the medical center to Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital’s burn unit for treatment of a skull fracture, broken bones and chemical burns, officials said. He was identified as David Beckwith, 49, according to Jim Gosky, Metro General spokesman.

Nine of the injured were expected to be admitted to Ashtabula County Medical Center.

Four others were treated at Brown Memorial Hospital in Conneaut, but all were expected to be released after they were scrubbed and decontaminated , said Claudia Gary, disaster coordinator for the hospital.

People exposed to the chemical are advised to flush their skin or eyes with running water for at least 15 minutes, according to federal guidelines on hazardous materials.

Ken Schultz, the Ohio EPA’s chief emergency response coordinator, said a team of EPA workers was investigating the explosion.

Update hourly