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Experts question St. Louis’ boiler standards after blast

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Safety experts are questioning St. Louis’ boiler safety standards, following a deadly explosion that killed three people and injured four others.

Boiler safety is regulated almost uniformly in most places, with standards that generally include periodic inspections, but not in St. Louis. The city is exempt from the Missouri law requiring regular inspections of high-pressure boilers by either a state inspector or insurance company, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/2nJzbkx ).

The deviation from national boiler safety standards was revealed after an explosion Monday sent a van-sized boiler into the sky at Loy-Lange Box Co., landing in the offices of Faultless Healthcare Linen. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the St. Louis Fire Department are investigating.

The state of Missouri’s fire safety division issues more than 20,000 certificates of inspection for boilers and pressure vessels each year, and typically about 2,000 are found to be in dangerous condition.

But in St. Louis, the law requires a company to have a licensed stationary engineer on site while a high-pressure boiler is in operation, rather than requiring periodic inspections. Loy-Lange employed three stationary engineers assigned to the company’s two boilers.

One of the engineers, Kenneth Trentham, 59, was among the people killed. Police on Wednesday identified the other two victims, Tonya Gonzalez-Suarez, 46, and Christopher Watkins, 43, both of St. Ann, Missouri. The Post-Dispatch said they were a married couple filling out paperwork for new jobs at Faultless Healthcare Linen when they were killed.

No details have been released about factors that may have contributed to the explosion. It was not known whether the device had been inspected by an insurance company and issued a certificate that would have been acceptable under a standard process anywhere else.

The city insisted its system of regulating boiler operation was safe. Because the city mandates licensed engineers to operate high-pressure boilers, they are under constant inspection, rather than just once per year, said Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay.

But David A. Douin, executive director of the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, said an engineer working for a company simply could not be objective.

“That’s the whole thing about third-party inspection,” he said. “You can be objective. You don’t work for the company that owns the equipment. Like, your boss isn’t going to say, ‘Hey, we need to do this production run today, can’t we wait a couple weeks before we fix it?'”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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