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A power plant in Johnston, R.I., that collects methane gas from decomposing trash at a landfill site experienced an explosion and fire as a result of possible operational negligence.
CBS affiliate in Providence, R.I., WPRI News reported the initial explosion occurred around 4 a.m. on July 16 at Broadrock Renewables, an energy company that converts methane gas into electricity, which has had similar safety and compliance issues in the past working on the Rhode Island Central Landfill
Officials suspect the explosion, and a small fire near the Shun Pike site, was the result of a fault in a methane gas line. An employee who was conducting routine rounds of the facility saw a small brush fire near the blast site called the fire department who arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire, according to Bill Fischer, spokesperson for Broadrock Renewables. The pipe that exploded, however, posed concerns for the fire department. It was unclear whether or not a methane gas detector was deployed near the site, according to the Providence Journal.
"There were some repairs to be done on this pipe, but before they did the repairs they had the responsibility of notifying our building official, who was supposed to come up here, do an inspection and work with them," Tim McLaughlin, Johnston fire chief, told WPRI. "It appears that that didn't take place. The building official wasn't notified the repairs were done, and this gas was turned back on. This [explosion] is the result of that. It wasn't inspected by our town at all."
Thankfully, due to the time of the explosion, no employees were on the site and no injuries were reported. However, Joseph Polisena, mayor of Johnston, was not impressed. Inspecting the site, he found various pipes and valves simply "duct taped" together. He added that significant damage had occurred to pipes that feed the generators, metal valves and pipes had been broken apart by the force of the explosion.
"I'm not a happy person today, and it's not from the heat," Polisena told the Providence Journal. "I'm just tired of this company not following the rules. If they don't get their arms around this situation, someone is going to get killed. [They] are responsible for extricating gas not growing mushrooms."
David Savastano, assistant fire chief, said that the blast ignited an 8-by-8-foot section of wooden fencing, which was quickly extinguished by firefighters. However, because of concerns over air quality, a member of the Department of Environmental Management's office of emergency response arrived on the scene at 5 a.m. According to Gail Mastrati, spokesperson for the DEQ, the air quality was deemed safe.
Going against the grain
In 2011, the town of Johnston sued the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. and Broadrock Renewables for unsavory odors originating from the landfill and traveling up to 20 miles away, according to The Associated Press. Just months ago, this same plant was ordered to shut down after residents filed a large number of complaints about the smells. Upon an inspection, second-hand work was found all over the facility. The inspector cited pipes mended with broomsticks, rope and duct tape. As a result, the company needed to notify officials before restarting the plant.
"They were instructed by the building official to call him first before they opened. They didn't,'' Polisena said. ''They're not being a good, safe corporate citizen, and I won't tolerate it.''
Fischer reassured officials that regular safety inspections are conducted, and that the safety systems in place prevented a fire as equipment was shut down. He also insisted the company's strong safety record and its numerous safety protocols to prevent such explosions.
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