Here’s what to know about the explosions at the Dippin’ Dots facilities in Kentucky
Sylvia GoodmanLouisville Courier JournalView Comments0:300:49
Many of us have fond memories of Dippin’ Dots, the beloved ice cream treat that can be found at childhood haunts, from the Louisville Zoo to Kentucky Kingdom and beyond.
But while eating those little icy orbs, we may not consider the explosive nature of the liquid nitrogen used to freeze them in Paducah, Kentucky, where Dippin’ Dots is headquartered and manufactured.
Ten people were injured July 21 after a nitrogen explosion at a Dippin’ Dots facility in Paducah.
The facility in question was a separate contract manufacturing facility, according to the company, that manufactures ingredients for a third-party company. The explosion did not affect Dippin’ Dots corporate headquarters or ice cream production facility.
Here’s what you need to know about the explosion and a similar one from 2019:
What caused the explosion?
According to preliminary reports from Robin Newberry, assistant to the chief of Paducah Police, the explosion occurred as a truck was off-loading liquid nitrogen to a storage tank.
“We’ve got an active investigation going on, and we’re still piecing things together,” Paducah’s Fire Chief Steve Kyle said on July 22.
Liquid nitrogen has an extremely low boiling point of minus 320.5 degrees. As the liquid boils, it lets off gas. This means that if liquid nitrogen is kept in a tightly sealed container without a release for the quickly expanding gas, pressure inside the container can build quickly.
“For this reason liquid nitrogen should not be enclosed in a sealed container, as this may result in it bursting or an explosion,” according to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Office of Occupational Safety and Health.Stay connected to news near you.What you get with your account:
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While the investigation into the explosion on July 21 is still underway, pressure build-up within an improperly sealed container is a likely cause for the explosion as liquid nitrogen is nonflammable
Who was injured?
Ten employees were taken to the hospital after the incident. Nine were released and recovering at home by the next day, but another was flown to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for additional treatment, Kyle said. He was released over the weekend, and is now back home, according to the Paducah Fire Department.
An 11th employee was on site when the explosion occurred, but according to Newberry, that person refused treatment on the scene.
Dippin’ Dots said it is offering on-site counseling support to employees.
“Please continue to pray for our one employee who is recovering in the hospital,” Scott Fischer, CEO of Dippin’ Dots, said in a July 22 statement. “My heart is with all of our employees, as we work through this difficult time together.”
Kyle said the building also sustained heavy damage in the explosion.
Who is investigating?
The Paducah Police and Fire departments both responded to the scene. Newberry said the police had detectives on site to assist the fire department, but their involvement ended quickly.
The Kentucky office of health and safety is now investigating the accident, and according to the Paducah Fire Department, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators were at the scene July 28.
A statement from Dippin’ Dots said it is working with local officials and is in contact with state and federal officials “in preparation for a complete investigation.”
Didn’t I read about a Dippin’ Dots explosion in 2019?
Yes, you did. On Nov. 22, 2019, there was a liquid nitrogen explosion at a different Dippin’ Dots facility in Paducah. The explosion injured four employees.
The investigation was turned over to the office of healthy and safety for further investigation while Dippin’ Dots conducted its own investigation.
The Courier Journal obtained records of the investigation through an Open Records Request. Investigators determined that the explosion could have come from multiple different causes but was most likely created by particulate matter caught in the valves that kept the vats holding the liquid nitrogen from closing properly.
According to the report, third-party investigators “recommended that the liquid nitrogen be drained from the equipment at the end of production, and the particulate be removed. In less than five minutes, the hazards could be removed.”
The severity of the explosion was deemed high, although the probability of its occurrence was said to be “lesser,” according to the Violation Worksheet of the incident. In the end, Dippin’ Dots was fined an adjusted $3,250 and given an abatement period to implement new security measures to ensure a similar accident did not occur in the future.
“Dippin’ Dots management has worked very hard and spent a healthy six figure number to ensure that this type of incident does not occur again,” the report reads, citing Michael Avery, the company’s attorney at the time.
But were the two explosions caused by the same thing?
As of right now, we can’t say for sure if the same flaw in cleaning procedures caused the two explosions. According to multiple reports, however, both explosions were caused in some way by liquid nitrogen.
After the explosion last week, Dippin’ Dots officials did not comment on whether the company was going to reevaluate safety procedures.
“Even though the incident did not affect our manufacturing and distribution of Dippin’ Dots products,” the company’s statement read, “we are deliberate in resuming production, which will happen soon.”