ST. LOUIS (Sept. 29, 2005) — Praxair Distribution, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Praxair, Inc. (NYSE:PX), announced today that it believes a mechanical failure in a gas cylinder caused the major fire at its St. Louis distribution facility on Chouteau Ave. on June 24 this year.
Praxair believes that the premature release of a safety relief valve on one or more gas cylinders containing flammable gas may have contributed to the extent of the St. Louis fire. Praxair does not manufacture cylinders or valves.
"In the weeks since the fire occurred on that very hot Friday afternoon, Praxair safety experts have worked closely with both the St. Louis Fire Department and the Police Department to establish the cause of the fire," said Praxair Distribution President Wayne Yakich.
"The most significant piece of evidence we have is a surveillance videotape, which was focused on a section of the storage yard containing cylinders and which captured what we believe is the actual beginning of the fire," Yakich said.
"However, there was major fire damage to all the cylinders and, as a result, it has not yet been possible to establish exactly which cylinder began the fire or what type of gas was contained in it. We continue to work with a valve manufacturer in an effort to determine the exact cause."
Praxair said that following the fire it inspected all of its propylene and propane cylinders in its inventory and at customer sites throughout the United States and Canada. As part of this inspection, a detailed review was also conducted of the storage and filling procedures for flammable gas cylinders. It also reviewed special precautions regarding leak checks and weight measurement procedures for these cylinders.
As a result of these inspections, Praxair learned that a particular relief valve was releasing gas from propylene cylinders prematurely, before the normal safety parameters were exceeded. As a result, Praxair removed 8,000 cylinder valves from service and replaced them. The valve manufacturer issued an inspection notice in July and a recall notification in August for certain valves in propylene gas service.
"At this time, we have not been able to link any particular manufacturer's valves to the start of the fire in St. Louis as all the cylinder valves at the origin of the fire were very badly damaged," Yakich emphasized.
Praxair has also designed and is beginning to install at its cylinder production facilities specially adapted secure areas for the storage of propylene and propane cylinders. This will ensure that an appropriate area of separation exists between cylinders with flammable gases and other cylinders. It will also ensure that any future premature release of a safety valve on one of these cylinders will not result in a similar event as the one which occurred in St. Louis.
At the Chouteau Ave. site, Praxair will store cylinders containing acetylene, propane, propylene and other flammable gases in the former acetylene filling room. This filling room is protected by a deluge fire suppression system designed to shower the entire area with massive quantities of water should a fire be detected. This deluge system was in place at the time of the fire on June 24 and functioned as intended, protecting the cylinders stored there.
Sequence of events on June 24, 2005
The surveillance videotape showed a section of the storage yard at the Chouteau Ave. site, which included the area for returned cylinders. The ambient temperature on that day was approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Note: Cylinders returned by customers typically are not completely empty and contain some liquid and gas.)
The videotape revealed a safety relief device on a cylinder located in the area where empty propane or propylene cylinders were stored at the site apparently venting with high energy. The escaping gas ignited and the subsequent high-pressure flame impacted other cylinders in the area, heating them to the point that they too started to vent.
Once the fire was underway in the area containing returned propane and propylene cylinders, most of the nearby cylinders containing propylene or propane caught fire. These cylinders started to explode and this spread the fire to trucks containing acetylene gas cylinders.
Praxair Distribution, Inc. and its subsidiaries and distributors deliver a wide array of industrial and specialty gases, equipment and supplies, technical expertise, and services to thousands of customers in the United States and Canada.
Praxair is the largest industrial gases company in North and South America, and one of the largest worldwide, with 2004 sales of $6.6 billion. The company produces, sells and distributes atmospheric and process gases, and high-performance surface coatings. Praxair products, services and technologies bring productivity and environmental benefits to a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, chemicals, food and beverage, electronics, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, metals and others. More information on Praxair is available on the Internet at www.praxair.com.