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Southern Energy Slapped With Violations, Fines For 2013 Explosion

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Photo: Video by NewsChannel5.com

Southern Energy Slapped With Violations, Fines For 2013 Explosion

CREATED Jun 4, 2014
by Todd Walker

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn - State investigators have found more than a dozen serious safety violations at the site of the Southern Energy Bio-Diesel plant explosion, last year.

Ten pages of the nearly 400 page report were devoted to just listing out the safety violations.

More than seven months after the flames were put out, the building, which houses Southern Energy in Shelbyville, has been rebuilt but this time, there is no bio-diesel plant.

The explosion critically injured Michael Dinovo, a chemist who was working to offload a delivery of 5,000 gallons of methanol.

An interview in the report with Divono said he had gone inside the plant when he discovered a leak on one of the reactors.

The explosion happened right after that.

The Tennessee Division of Occupational Safety and Health was brought in to investigate Southern Energy's relatively new plant. The report said it only began full time operation in March 2013.

Even before the explosion last November, there were questions about the plant's operations and how it was able to be in a commercially zoned building.

Documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 in November show a previous inspection noting a spot for a future bio-diesel area - but Shelbyville city officials said following the explosion they had no idea there were hazardous materials inside the building.

The TOSHA report listed more than a dozen serious violations committed by the company. Those violations included using PVC pipe to move methanol into the bio-diesel reactor instead of metal piping.

"No piping and instrument diagrams were available from the employer other than the original process flow diagram," the report said. "The employer had not ensured that operating procedures were developed and/or implemented for safely conducting emergency shutdown activities..."

The report also said there were no operating procedures for a normal shutdown of the bio-diesel production process.

The report slammed Southern Energy for not having better safety plans.

"Existence of obvious hazards indicate minimal focus on hazard correction..."

That would include, according to the report, not fixing equipment when it broke. The report said a mixing tank for methanol and sodium hydroxide had to be manually stirred with the lid open because "the motor on the mixing tank quit working and electrical service to the motor was removed."

"No employee at the site knew if the use of PVC piping was acceptable for use in moving flammable liquids," according to the report.

Most pointedly, the report said there was no documentation the equipment complied with "recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices."

Southern Energy was fined more than $25,000.

Instead of fixing the problems, the company chose not to rebuild the bio-diesel plant.

To date, no one from the company has gone on the record with media about the explosion or the bio-diesel operations.

Vice President of Southern Energy, Amy Mitchell, said the president, Gary King, was the only one authorized to speak for the company and he was out of town, not reachable by phone.

Email: twalker@newschannel5.com

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