30 March 1999
At least four people were killed Monday in an explosion
and fire that tore through a fireworks factory near Osseo,
Michigan where seven other workers perished in a similar
blast three months ago.
The explosion occurred around 8:30 a.m. at the Independence
Professional Fireworks Company. The plant is located in
a farming area about 90 miles southwest of Detroit and 15
miles north of the Michigan-Ohio border.
The blast left only one wall standing in a building where
fireworks are assembled, roughly 100 yards from a structure
that was completely destroyed December 11, Hillsdale County
Sheriff Stan Burchardt said.
The previous explosion killed six women and one man while
injuring 13 others at the plant. Twenty-two people were
working at the time of the explosion. Federal, state and
local investigators determined that blast occurred in a
shell assembly room, leaving only a concrete slab with debris
and human remains scattered over a wide area. Investigators
said they might never fully understand what caused the explosion.
Independence is one of the largest producers of fireworks
in the US, producing an estimated 1.3 million fireworks
shells a year. Independence makes all of its products by
hand, using materials like nitrates, sulfurs, charcoal and
black powder. The December 1998 explosion was the second
major blast in the last 10 years at the 26-year-old company.
Fireworks producers often use low-paid workers who accept
the risk because they lack other opportunities. Last October
13 at least 10 workers were killed in an explosion and fire
in Tultepec, near Mexico City. In January, 17 workers, including
three children, were killed in fireworks factory in China.