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Massachusetts propane explosion case settled for $22.5m

10 July 2012

Lawyers for the family of the late William Nichols and two people who suffered permanent injuries in a propane blast in August 2012 at a Norfolk condominium construction project said on July 9 that the combined cases were settled for a total of $22.5 million. The explosion should also lead to new Massachusetts regulations on propane safety.

The 2010 propane explosion at Norfolk, Mass, killed one and injured seven, two seriously
The 2010 propane explosion at Norfolk, Mass, killed one and injured seven, two seriously

Nichols' lawsuit alleged that EnergyUSA Propane under-filled a new propane tank causing the chemical odorant which had been added to it to fade. This made the leaking propane odorless and undetectable.

Fire investigators also found the propane in the partly-full 1,000-gallon underground storage tank that exploded had "virtually no ethyl mercaptan," the additive whose smell alerts people to a leak.

The lawsuit also alleged Smolinsky Brothers Plumbing and Heating failed to tighten a connection that led to the leak at the construction site.

Nichols suffered burns over 80 percent of his body. It took firefighters more than 90 minutes to dig the 46-year-old out of the rubble, and he died that night in a Boston hospital.

State fire officials said that by working to trace the origin of the propane from the explosion, they found that the distribution of un-odorized or under-odorized propane was a problem in Massachusetts and possibly other states.

The pending regulations would require propane companies to regularly test gases three different ways to ensure that there are adequate levels of ethyl mercaptan at every stage of the process. Under the regulations, railroad cars would also have to pass the test before they could be unloaded in Massachusetts, and new tanks in the ground must be filled to 80% capacity within 48 hours, said Timothee Rodrique, the director of the division of fire safety within the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.


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