Part that failed on exploded Soulard boiler was hours away from repair

ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – A series of questionable decisions led to the April explosion in Soulard that killed four people, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) said Thursday.

Officials at the government agency said on the morning of April 3, a steam storage tank weighing close to 2,000 pounds blasted through the roof of the Loy Lange Box Company in Soulard and crashed through the roof of a nearby linen company. Four people were killed in two different businesses.

“It went through the roof traveling at almost 120 mph, it rose to 425 feet above street level and traveled laterally approximately 520 feet, it remained airborne for over 10 seconds,” said Vanessa Allen Sutherland, the chairperson of the CSB.

Federal investigators discovered that in 2012, a leak was repaired at the bottom of the tank; but instead of replacing the entire part as suggested, only a portion was replaced. The remaining part corroded.

Fast forward to March 31, 2017. The boiler tank was leaking again. A repair service was called for Monday afternoon April 3. But on the morning of April 3, the tank was turned on before the repair crew arrived.

“It appears the bottom of the tank catastrophically failed near the end of the start-up process,” lead investigator Cheryl MacKenzie said.

The force of the explosion was big.

“The energy released was equal to about 350 pounds of TNT,” Sutherland said.

Investigators said the City of St. Louis is responsible for inspecting boilers but it never happened. Building Commissioner Frank Oswald said that’s true. He said city ordinance requires every company that has a boiler to employ a professional stationary engineer who watches the boiler whenever it’s running. He said it’s too expensive to employ inspectors for every company.

“I don’t know how people can expect the city to be in every position and every place throughout the region to protect public safety,” Oswald said. “We try to do what we can.”

Nicole and Nate Favignano are the children of a woman and her husband who were seeking new jobs at the linen company. The newlyweds were killed when the tank hit. Their lawyer, Brad Wilmoth, said his investigators already discovered all this information. There were no surprises from the feds. He said when his clients first learned of the events that led to the explosion they were saddened, angered, and devastated. He said they have additional information which they are trying to confirm and, if true, is egregious and aggravating.