Contract Worker Charged in BASF Blast

26.04.2018 -

The state prosecutor’s office in Frankenthal, Germany, has charged an unidentified contract worker with causing the deadly fire and explosion at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site in October 2017. Five people were killed and around 45 others injured in the blast that interrupted production at Germany’s biggest chemical complex for weeks.

Three of the dead were members of the BASF fire brigade. The death toll also included a crew member of a tank ship docked in the site’s North Harbor, where the accident occurred.

The 62-year-old employee of a contracting firm tasked with laying a pipeline at the sprawling complex on the Rhine River will have to answer to charges of negligent homicide, negligent assault and negligently causing an explosion.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the worker’s job was to cut an empty propylene pipe with an angle grinder. Instead, he apparently cut a different pipe containing a butylene mixture. Sparks from the device are thought likely to have ignited the chemicals.

Due to the intense heat and pressure from the fire in the pipe trench that housed 38 supply lines – among other things for steam and water – a nearby ethylene overland transport pipeline also caught fire and exploded. This caused much of the damage to the site.

Altogether, the accident forced the temporary closure or partial output reduction of 24 plants at Ludwigshafen, including the site’s two steam crackers with joint nameplate capacity for 2 million t/y of naphtha.  BASF was forced to declare force majeure to customers for naphtha, ethylene and propylene from the two facilities, and the North Harbor was unusable for an extended period.

It will now be up to a state court in Frankenthal to decide whether the case should go to trial. The worker, who suffered severe burns, told authorities he has no recollection of the accident. He potentially faces a fine or a jail sentence of up to five years.