Sylvania Electric Products explosion

On the morning of July 2, 1956, three explosions involving scrap thorium occurred at the Sylvania Electric Products' Metallurgical Laboratory in Bayside, (now Bay Terrace) Queens, New York. Nine people were injured,[1][2] some severely. One 28 year old employee, Oliver Blaber died on August 6, 1956.[3] Workers described three fireballs.[4]

Sylvania Electric Products explosion
DateJuly 2, 1956 (1956-07-02)
Time8:40 am (Eastern Time Zone)
VenueSylvania Electric Products Metallurgical Laboratory, 208-01 Willets Point Boulevard
LocationBay Terrace Queens, New York City
Coordinates40°47′14″N 73°47′13.3″W / 40.78722°N 73.787028°W / 40.78722; -73.787028
TypeThree explosions
Causeincineration of thorium metal slugs.
Deaths1 (thorium poisoning)
Non-fatal injuries9
LitigationBlaber v. United States, 212 F. Supp. 95 (E.D.N.Y. 1962)

Sylvania was experimenting with large-scale production of thorium metal from thorium dioxide. Part of the process of shutting down this experiment was the reprocessing and burning of thorium metal powder sludges that went unprocessed during the experiment. It was during the incineration of this material that the explosion occurred. At the time the metallurgical properties of thorium were not well understood.

The plant's medical director stated to the press at the time that the employee who died as a result, Oliver Blaber, had succumbed to "complications caused by third-degree burns". Blaber's son would later cite the death certificate, which listed "thorium poisoning". Victims of the explosions were treated at Flushing Hospital, where both Blaber's mother and wife worked.[4] Blaber died a month after the incident, on August 6, 1956.[4]

Three hundred people – 225 employees, 50 firefighters, and 25 police officers – were tested for radiation.[1][2] The role of radiation was downplayed, especially to assuage fears that a nuclear explosion had occurred. The debris from the explosion was ultimately disposed of in the ocean.[4]

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Nine Injured In Atomic Lab Blasts". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. July 3, 1956. p. 2.
  2. ^ a b "No Radiation Threat Seen In A-laboratory Blast". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. July 3, 1956. p. 2.
  3. ^ "Dies of Sylvania Blast; Chemical Engineer Succumbs to Burns Suffered July 2". The New York Times. 1956-08-09. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
  4. ^ a b c d Mark Harrington, "Sad Memories of '56 Sylvania Explosion", New York Newsday, August 17, 2003, archived at the Wayback Machine, February 4, 2012.

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