Lab Shuttered While Blast Is Probed

Could be months before cause of Menlo Park lab explosion is known, say Cal-OSHA, fire district officials.

A Menlo Park R&D firm rocked by an Sept. 2 remains closed while investigators examine debris, interview employees, and analyze safety records – a process that could take up to six months.

Adrian Martin, 56, died after a pre-gas mixture blew, shaking a first-floor lab at Membrane Technology and Research Inc. and catapulting a co-worker out of the room. He left a wife and a 17-year-old daughter.

“For now, it’s closed and deemed unsafe until we complete the clean-up and assessment,” said Menlo Park Fire Protection District inspector John Johnston.

The state’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration is leading the investigation.

“Part of our responsibility is to investigate exactly what happened,” said Cal-OSHA spokesperson Patricia Ortiz.

The day after the explosion, Martin’s widow told reporters the company failed to maintain a safe work environment, although for the time being the cause of the blast remains a mystery.

Her husband had complained to her that the lab at 1360 Willow Road was "not as safe as it should be," Livia Martin told the San Jose Mercury News.

"He's not here right now because a stupid gas system wouldn't work," she said. "He was just a victim of unsafe surroundings."

A public records search turned up no Occupational Health and Safety complaints or actions, and Johnston said the firm passed a District fire inspection in recent days.

Martin was combining methane, helium and nitrogen into a single cannister when an eruption tore through the rear of the facility, said district fire chief Harold Schapelhouman.

Co-workers rushed the lab, closing off the flow from the tanks and pulling Martin into a hallway, He later suffered a cardiac arrest and failed to respond to CPR by paramedics. An unidentified female employee was rushed to Stanford Medical Center with pain in her ears.

The methane container continued leaking – whether the possible result or the cause of the blast is not yet known.

The company conducts research on petrochemicals and has mixed the chemicals previously without incident, Schapelhouman said.

California’s standards exceed those of the federal government, Ortiz said. The state requires workplaces to maintain “a living document” of health and safety risks and a plan for mitigating them. While most investigations wrap up in four to six months, an inquiry can take six months.

“We like to say our job is to make sure that everyone who goes to work comes home from work,” she said.


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