7 Died in Blast: Investigation Uncovers Gas Leak from Faulty Fitting at Pennsylvania Chocolate Factory
According to a recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the powerful explosion that occurred at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in West Reading, Pennsylvania, resulting in seven fatalities, was caused by a gas leak from a defective fitting. The NTSB’s investigative update revealed that one of the two leaks at the chocolate factory was linked to a gas fitting installed in 1982, which was found to have fractured. Additionally, a small leak was also discovered in a natural gas fitting installed in 2021.
The older fitting, manufactured by DuPont, was already known for its tendency to crack, and it had been added to a list of pipe materials with a “poor performance history” by the federal government back in 2007. Despite this knowledge, the fitting was left in place during utility work conducted two years ago and remained connected to the natural gas system.
Lawyers representing the victims’ families expressed outrage at the findings, stating that the tragedy could have been prevented if the known defects were addressed. They have filed suits against Palmer, DuPont, and UGI Corp., the natural gas utility that served the chocolate factory.
At the time of the explosion, approximately 70 production workers and 35 office staff were present in the two adjacent buildings. Federal investigators were informed by employees from both buildings that they could smell gas before the blast. Workers accused Palmer of ignoring warnings about the gas leak and argued that the factory should have been evacuated.
While UGI, the natural gas provider, claimed that there was no utility work happening in the area and that no sudden surge in gas usage was detected before the explosion, safety investigators found that UGI had replaced a service line in 2021 but kept the 1982 service tee connected to the system and fully pressurized.
Attorneys representing survivors and victims’ families argued that UGI was aware of the hazardous nature of the DuPont piping but still chose to leave it in place. They emphasized that shoddy materials and workmanship were responsible for the tragic loss of seven lives.
The NTSB report indicated that the cracked fitting was located just a few feet from other pipelines running between the two plant buildings, including a steam line, a condensate line, and several pipelines containing heated chocolate. Investigators also observed a crack in the steam line.
While the gas leaks are being considered as possible causes or contributors to the explosion, the NTSB has not yet reached any definitive conclusions. The investigation is still ongoing.
Both UGI and Palmer responded to the report, with UGI acknowledging it and expressing cooperation while declining further comment on the ongoing investigation. Palmer stated its focus remains on rebuilding and aiding the West Reading community’s recovery. DuPont is reviewing the report but refrained from commenting further due to the ongoing civil litigation.