Eastman cited for 'serious' violations in 2017 explosions

Hank Hayes • Apr 30, 2018 at 12:12 PM

KINGSPORT – Eastman Chemical Co. was cited for four “serious” violations involving the Oct. 4, 2017, coal gasification facility explosions in a report released Monday by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA).

“Eastman representatives are currently reviewing the proposed citations and are working with TOSHA on the final outcome,” Eastman spokeswoman Betty Payne said of the company’s response to the situation. 

The main violation, concerning a faulty valve, resulted in a $2,400 fine. The three other violations, which concerned maintaining the integrity of its process equipment, called for no fines.

According to an incident report provided by Eastman, TOSHA said water was unintentionally fed to a gasifier instead of a coal slurry feed. “This stopped the oxidation reaction in the gasifier,” TOSHA reported “ … Due to the lack of slurry feed, pure oxygen continued to be fed to the gasifier which was not consumed immediately. This condition led to high oxygen concentrations in downstream equipment.”

The result: Two explosions beginning at about 10:50 a.m.

TOSHA claimed Eastman, a Kingsport-based global global specialty chemical company, did not establish and implement written procedures to maintain the “on-going integrity” of the so-called “MarPac” valve.

In a separate report issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Eastman indicated the failed valve would be replaced with a “more reliable” automatic valve.

The coal gasification facility makes methanol and acetic anhydride.

Due to the area being evacuated prior to the explosions, no fatalities or serious injuries were reported, although residents in the area surrounding the plant site were advised to shelter in place for as long as five hours.

In a meeting with reporters in mid-April, Eastman noted the shelter-in-place time period was unnecessary and added its communication response to the public could have been better.

Eastman also recently held a commemoration event at the Toy F. Reid Employee Center to recognize the men and women who rebuilt the coal gasification facility, which has since restarted production.

In its first quarter report to shareholders, Eastman said net cash used for coal gasification operations repair and restart was about $75 million.