The widow of a 63-year-old Columbia man killed Dec. 6 in an explosion at Eastman Chemical Co. in Calhoun County has filed a wrongful death suit in U.S. District Court.
Alton Ray Zeigler “was the victim of what we believe was a preventable tragedy,” George Johnson, of the Columbia law firm Johnson, Toal & Battiste, said in a press release. His firm is serving as co-counsel with Charleston-based Motley Rice LLC.
Zeigler was burned when a pipe carrying hot chemicals used in the process of manufacturing plastic for soda bottles burst and spewed the material on workers, Calhoun County Coroner Donnie Porth said. Two other men working with Zeigler also were injured.
The federal suit, filed in the District of South Carolina, Orangeburg Division, alleges Eastman neglected to adopt and implement adequate safety procedures and failed to exercise reasonable care and precautions that could have prevented the incident, according to the release.
Zeigler, a retired Army master sergeant, was one of three DAK Americas employees attempting to repair a leaking pump in a pipeline owned by Eastman, the suit said. Previous attempts by employees of the Mundy Companies to drain the pipeline resulted in a fire days earlier that is believed to have altered the chemical makeup of the pipeline’s contents and increased pressure in the pipeline by converting some liquid to gas.
The suit alleges that as a result of the increased pressure in the pipeline, an explosion erupted shortly after Zeigler and two other employees loosened bolts on a pump. The force of the explosion projected the pump, which weighed approximately 300 pounds, almost nine feet and put a hole in a concrete block wall, according to the release. About 500 gallons of the pipeline’s contents, which was heated to 300 degrees Celsius, were spewed throughout the workspace.
“We believe that the increased pressure inside Eastman’s pipeline turned the conditions experienced by Mr. Zeigler and his co-workers from a pump removal into a bomb waiting to happen,” said Marlon Kimpson, Motley Rice attorney for the Zeigler family.
The suit alleges Eastman knew or should have known the danger the altered chemicals posed to Zeigler, but that the company failed to warn him of the risks associated with the compromised pipeline.