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Tesoro fined $2.38 million for explosion that killed 7, 2 from Oak Harbor

The April 2 blast at the Tesoro plant in Anacortes that killed seven people, including two Oak Harbor residents, could have been prevented, the state Department of Labor & Industries concluded in an investigation released today.

L&I fined Tesoro a total of $2.38 million and cited the company for 39 "willful" violations and five "serious" violations of state workplace safety and health regulations. It is the largest fine in the agency's history.

Oak Harbor residents Matt Gumbel, 34, and Donna Van Dreumel, 36, were among those killed as a result of the explosion. The other victims were Daniel Aldridge of Anacortes, Matt Bowen of Arlington, Darrin Hoines of Ferndale, Kathryn Powell of Burlington and Lew Janz of Anacortes.

Tesoro had planned to restart the plant today.

Gov. Chris Gregoire weighed in on the tragedy and the investigation.

“The loss of seven lives is a tragedy not just for their loved ones but for our entire state. What makes the loss of these lives all the more painful is that these deaths could have been prevented,” she said in a press release. “I believe the action L&I is announcing today and the record fine they have assessed against Tesoro sends a clear message that these tragedies are not acceptable.”

Investigators found that the explosion occurred in the plant's Naphtha Hydrotreater Unit as workers were returning a bank of nearly 40-year-old heat exchangers into service after they were shut down for maintenance. One of the heat exchangers split violently.

A lab found cracks in the heat exchanger that exploded, along with "at least one other" unit, the press released stated. The investigation found that the heat exchangers were never tested in a way that would have revealed the problem, L&I concluded.

"L&I inspectors found that Tesoro disregarded a host of workplace safety regulations, continued to operate failing equipment for years, postponed maintenance, inadequately tested for potentially catastrophic damage and failed to adequately protect their workers from significant risk of injury and death," according to the press release from L&I.

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