Five Persons Killed and Many Injured Whan Waltham, Mass., Factory is Wrecked by Dust Explosion

FIVE employees were killed and more than thirty injured, several critically, when a dust explosion and fire destroyed the Makalot Plastics plant in Waltham, Mass., on March 6, 1948. The building was owned by the Interlake Chemical Corporation of Cleveland, who run a chain of chemical manufacturing operations. This particular plant was engaged in the manufacture of plastic molding powders for use in making plastic diShes, radio cabinets and similar articles. Chief among the round-the-clock operations carried on were: 1. resin making. 2. hammer milling to pulverize the resins and 3. blending to mix the powdered resins with fillers, extenders and coloring materials.

The plant, a two story, stucco-covered cement block structure, was located on South Street near the Fitchburg Division of the Boston and Maine Railroad in the Roberts district, which is an uncrowded section of countryside between Waltham and Weston. The force of the blast was felt for miles around and many window panes were either blown in or sucked out by the concussion.

This Pile of Rubble Is All That Remains of a Plant Which Manufactured Plastic Moulding Powders

Photograph by Charles L. Hanson, Jr.

The time of the blast, fixed by records on the nearby Boston College seismograph at 11:07 P.M., was particularly unfortunate because more employees were present at that time, due to the 11 P.M. change of shift than would have been the case either earlier or later. Some who were caught in the locker room at the time of the blast escaped death by the narrowest margin.

Witnesses said the whole plant appeared to burst into flames at once, shooting an enormous column of flame skyward. Minor blasts followed the first one and in a short time the fire completed the destruction.

Fire apparatus reached the scene soon after the blast, in spite of the fact that fire alarm, electric power and telephone lines passing close to the building were disrupted. The Fire Department radio proved its value in summoning extra apparatus to the general alarm, along with ambulances to carry the injured to local hospitals. Curious sightseers flocked to the scene in such numbers that their cars seriously jammed the two lane, snow-banked South Street approach to the building. This not only hampered incoming fire apparatus but made necessary a rerouting of ambulances from a hospital three quarters of a mile away to another three miles distant.

Damage to the plant has been estimated by Chief Neal to be $150,000. Further damage was suffered by workmen’s cars parked near the building and by a neighboring rivet-making plant and a salesbook and business form printing concern. Of the few houses located on the edge of the residential district within range of the blast, damage was mostly from broken windows.

Crushed Automobiles Stand in Pools of Colored Water at the Scene of the Blast in Waltham

Photograph by Charles L. Hanson, Jr.

This explosion has been described as a “low pressure blast” which blew out the walls, collapsing the roof. This theory is substantiated by the pattern of window breakage in the neighborhood, plus the fact that none of the heavy equipment on the floor of the plant appeared to have been ruptured. It has been theorized that a high velocity explosion would have torn a hole through the roof as it vented itself, leaving the walls standing. Sprinkler protection throughout the building was rendered inoperative by the blast.

Neighbors in the area indicated that several scares had occurred in recent months as workers fled the structure expecting trouble but returned to work when nothing materialized. Within the last few weeks the Fire Department had been called to extinguish a blaze in the dust-laden building. In view of the number of men in the plant at the time of the blast, it was considered quite remarkable that any escaped at all.

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