Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, Commanding General of AMCOM and Redstone Arsenal, announced today the results of the investigation into the May 5, 2010 explosion at Building 7352, Test Area 10 on Redstone Arsenal, which resulted in the death of Amtec employees Jim Hawke and Jerry Grimes.
"What happened here on May 5th was tragic. Our thoughts and prayers are still with the family and friends of Jim Hawke and Jerry Grimes," said Rogers. "They lost loved ones that day, we lost two valued team members. This has been a healing process for all of us.
"Our investigating officer, an experienced expert in the field of weapons research and development, worked with leading scientific and engineering experts from throughout the Army, NASA, and academia. The investigative team conducted detailed interviews and reviewed thousands of pieces of evidence and related materials. They commissioned and performed numerous experiments, models and simulations," said Rogers. "They also developed a fault tree analysis to evaluate, segregate and eliminate hundreds of potential contributing factors. Our goal was to find a definite answer for why this happened."
The investigation determined that the cause of the explosion was Amtec's operation of a particular type of decanter centrifuge to process potentially explosive materials. The investigation found that the deaths were the result of Amtec personnel conducting decanter centrifuge tests involving potentially explosive materials as an attended operation instead of running the tests remotely.
Amtec was responsible for safety within Building 7352 pertaining to its operations. Amtec personnel selected, purchased, installed, and independently operated the decanter centrifuge. The investigation concluded that this type of centrifuge was unsuitable and unsafe for processing explosives. Responsible Amtec personnel did not develop safety procedures specific to the use of the centrifuge and exercised poor safety discipline.
Amtec employees were working on demilitarization operations that involved Ammonium Perchlorate, an oxidizer used in solid rocket propellant. The goal was to develop the optimal process for achieving reclaimed dry AP at maximum volume. To separate the AP, Amtec was using n-Butanol, a solvent and type of alcohol, to dissolve away impurities from the AP.
AP and n-Butanol were mixed together to form a slurry. Amtec personnel were using a decanter centrifuge, which spins at high speed to remove the n-Butanol from the AP and to dry the AP. AP wet with n-Butanol has high chemical energy and can be explosive.
During the process on May 5, friction from rotating parts inside the decanter centrifuge generated enough heat to cause a mixture of AP and n-Butanol to ignite. The flame led to an explosion within the decanter centrifuge causing fragmentation and ultimately producing an intense fireball that engulfed personnel present in the building.
The investigation also found that there was inadequate verification of Amtec's compliance with safety and technical requirements by responsible Army personnel. As a result of this tragedy and investigation, Army organizations on Redstone Arsenal are taking actions that will improve their ability to verify contractor compliance with safety requirements. These actions include:
-Evaluating current contract requirements and safety methods
-Taking steps to ensure that contractors operating on Army property do not begin explosives operations with new equipment in Army facilities without active government knowledge
- Enhancing our capability to monitor explosives operations performed on Redstone Arsenal
- Incorporating lessons learned from this accident in future safety training modules.
"Our workforce consistently takes on the hard jobs to ensure the best equipment for our sons and daughters in harm's way," Rogers said. "Daily, the Soldiers, Civilians and Contractors at Redstone work toward the goal of serving those who serve our nation. Although we strive to impose the highest safety standards and constantly improve the safety of our workplace, the work that we perform is inherently dangerous work.
"In memory of Jim and Jerry, their families and for all of Team Redstone, I promise that we will do everything we can to improve our overall safety. We will take steps to ensure that accidents like this one, that took the lives of two great Americans, will never happen again," said Rogers.