Alton Ray Zeigler, a retired master sergeant in the U.S. Army, died after being scalded by the superheated contents of a pipeline pump that he and two co-workers were attempting to repair Dec. 6, 2016.
The widow of the 63-year-old Richland County man filed a wrongful death suit in federal court against Eastman Chemical Co., a Mount Pleasant law firm handling her suit announced on Wednesday.
The former Carolina Eastman plant where the fatal accident occurred is located on the Congaree River near Sandy Run, a few miles northeast of Gaston. It employs 430 people and makes specialty plastics, site manager Mark Leaphardt said in December.
Leaphardt said at the time that the accident occurred during routine annual maintenance on a pipeline that carries polymer products but was not in operation at the time of the explosion.
The suit alleges that a fire during leak repair efforts on the pipeline several days earlier had “altered the chemical makeup of the pipeline’s contents and increased pressure within the pipeline by converting some liquid to gas.”
When Zeigler’s team loosened the pump bolts, the built-up pressure blew the nearly 300-pound pump nine feet into the air and spewed some 500 gallons of pipeline contents, heated to 300 degrees, over the work area, the suit alleges.
Zeigler died “a ghastly death,” the suit states.
The pump removal job assigned to Zeigler and his two co-workers was “a bomb waiting to happen,” said state Rep. Marlon Kimpson, attorney for the Zeigler family.
The suit contends that Carolina Eastman knew or should have known about the danger but failed to warn Zeigler of the “risks associated with the compromised pipeline.”