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Investigators focusing on New Hampshire Ball Bearings’s acid room after explosion

Governor Maggie Hassan and fire officials gave a press conference regarding the NHBB explosion on Feb. 11, 2014.

Governor Maggie Hassan and fire officials gave a press conference regarding the NHBB explosion on Feb. 11, 2014.

Two New Hampshire Ball Bearings employees remained hospitalized yesterday after an explosion on the first floor of the manufacturing company Monday afternoon.

Fourteen people were transported to the hospital Monday after the explosion, including 10 Ball Bearings employees and four private contractors. All but two have been treated and released.

According to a statement the company issued at 11:38 a.m. yesterday, “Our understanding is that 14 people were injured and taken to the local hospital. As of 7:45 p.m. last night, 12 patients were treated and released. Two employees were treated and transferred to other hospitals which are better equipped to care for their specific needs.”

New Hampshire Ball Bearings remained closed yesterday while fire, hazmat and OSHA officials continued their investigation. The building was to be turned over to Ball Bearings officials to continue remediation and cleaning yesterday afternoon, said Assistant Director and Deputy State Fire Marshal Max Schultz, who spoke at a press conference outside the facility yesterday morning.

Early investigation points to an acid room, where Ball Bearings workers surface-treat ball bearings, as the initial point of the explosion, Schultz said. Determining the actual cause of the explosion, however, is a process that could take several weeks, he said. The state fire marshal’s office is considering this an industrial incident, and does not suspect foul play, he added.

“Responding departments have spent the night in frigid temperatures investigating the explosion but, as of this writing, the specific cause has not yet been determined,” the company’s press release from yesterday morning reads. “Power and heat have been restored in all but the affected areas.”

Though most employees reported hearing one loud explosion, some reported hearing two, a smaller one preceding the large one, Schultz said. The state fire marshal’s office will be investigating whether there were two explosions or one.

Rich Bardellini, vice president of manufacturing at New Hampshire Ball Bearings, said a structural engineer will be examining the building before any employees are allowed to return, although at this point the building appears to be sound. The company hopes to resume operations as soon as possible, although the area immediately affected by the explosion will remain closed for now.

The company has said the facility will remain closed at least through first shift. “We will not have our employees return to work until both New Hampshire state officials and NHBB’s management team are convinced beyond any doubt that everyone will be safe.”

Bardellini declined to comment on whether employees will be paid for the missed work days.

Gov. Maggie Hassan visited the site yesterday afternoon. She commented that whether employees receive compensation depends upon the company and situation. New Hampshire Ball Bearings is still determining the length of time it will be closed, she said. Should it be determined workers will not be compensated, they will have New Hampshire Employment Security available to them, she said.

Hassan said state officials from the Department of Environmental Services and regional hazmat teams were on the scene yesterday to investigate any possible environmental concerns as a result of the explosion. Testing of the catch basins, culverts and the water runoff from the sprinkler system, which went off in reaction to the explosion, did not show any contamination, she said.

Hassan commended the enormous response from emergency officials at the time of the accident.

The company also expressed gratitude in its statement yesterday for the many emergency response teams that have been working at the scene since Monday afternoon: “All of us at NHBB are grateful beyond words for the response we received from our New Hampshire emergency teams: ambulance/rescue crews, fire crews, local and state police, hazmat teams, OSHA officials, fire investigators, and many others. The response was overwhelming, immediate and complete.”

Danielle Drouin of Rindge, an employee of the company, said yesterday that Monday night’s third shift was canceled and yesterday’s first shift was also canceled. She said when she called the company yesterday morning, no one answered and there was no outgoing message with information. All the information she’s had has come from Facebook updates posted by other employees.

Drouin works second shift, 3:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., and as of late yesterday morning had not yet heard whether she would be expected to work yesterday.

“I can’t imagine going in to do anything besides clean up,” Drouin said.

The explosion happened at 3:30 p.m. Monday, and Drouin said she didn’t leave the premises until 6:30 p.m. She said she was cold, and spent two hours warming up in a car with a couple of other co-workers. Her car was parked in the upper level of the parking area behind the building. She said everyone who parked in the lower parking level, the area closest to Route 202, had to have pictures taken of their cars and license plates before they left and were required to give written statements, she said.

She also said that not everyone was able to grab their cell phones and keys before leaving the building yesterday afternoon, and those people have not been allowed back into the building since the explosion.

“The floor went up and down like an elevator,” Drouin said of explosion. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Drouin said she was surprised there was no outgoing message from the company, but didn’t worry about finding out about work yesterday. “I’m going to hear on Facebook faster,” she said.

New Hampshire Ball Bearings does regular yearly evacuation drills, said fire Chief Joe Lenox, and employees did a good job following procedure immediately following the explosion, which helped reduce injuries. Lenox also praised the response teams, noting that Peterborough had two paramedic ambulances on the scene within three minutes.

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