Ex-Magnablend employee says he warned of dangers

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on October 7, 2011 at 12:14 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 7 at 12:14 AM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

WAXAHACHIE - The owner of the chemical blending plant that exploded in Waxahachie Monday says he suspects a waste-water treatment chemical overheated and somehow caught fire.

The fire at the Magnablend plant grew too big and too fast to contain. But was it an accident waiting to happen?

The broadcast images of billowing clouds of flame and hellish rivers of fire may have been startling to most viewers, but not Eric Kelly of Fort Worth.

For six weeks this summer, Kelly worked at the chemical blending plant. He said he called his wife Monday to describe not only what he was watching, but what he felt inside.

"I had told her that was going to happen,” Kelly said. “I had told her I needed to get out of there, because that place was going to blow up and they are going to get people killed."

Kelly was half-wrong and for that he was thankful. No one was killed or even injured.

He said not only is it amazing because of the stockpiles of dangerous chemicals inside with little or no containment system; It was also amazing because of what he called a daily disregard for simple safety measures.

For example, Kelly said the plant constantly reuses pumps and hoses without flushing and cleaning the previous chemical residue.

“You are going to mix chemicals together that can have an adverse reaction?” asked Kelly. “I mean, it's just dangerous."

Another daily practice according to Kelly, was allowing chemical overflow to drip into trash cans without proper disposal.

"You've got all these people emptying this stuff into the trash can, so that it didn't make a mess,” Kelly said. "At the end of the day, you've got all these trash cans being dumped in the central dumpster and that, to me, is a really big hazard."

Kelly said he took pictures to show his supervisors.

"But I told them, this is really dangerous and you need to fix this,” Kelly said. “They never changed anything."

While the workers were all outfitted with proper safety gear and put through a safety program, Kelly said he was never made aware of an emergency action plan, nor a system to contain what occurred on Monday.

"I don't think the firefighters that day knew exactly what was going on in that plant, and I don't think they knew what they were up against," Kelly said.

After six weeks on the job and too many complaints about conditions, Kelly claims his bosses asked him to leave.

Plant owner Scott Pendery said his plant has always put safety first, and says he has no knowledge of any employee complaints.

"We've had great relationships with employees and we pride ourselves on safety, so it's interesting that that would be said,” Pendery said.

Magnablend's owner said his plant had all of the proper safety features and permits, just no antidote for such an unforeseen accident.

But Thursday he would not disclose the suspected chemicals involved in the accident, nor would he show News 8 a permit for the chemical blending process that apparently went so wrong.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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