WOODBINE — Jannie Everette believes the federal government needs to acknowledge the 29 lives lost in one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents of the past century.
The Feb. 3, 1971, explosion at the Thiokol Chemical plant in Woodbine also injured another 50 workers, many of them seriously.
About 60 employees were inside Building No. 132 manufacturing munitions in support of the military’s effort during the war in Vietnam.
It took 17 years before lawsuits from victims and their families were settled in court after the Thiokol Chemical Corp. and the federal government denied responsibility. In fact, the federal government appealed the case five times before settling with the victims.
As a result of the case, the Department of Justice revised mass tort litigation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration changed industrial plant safety guidelines nationwide.
Now, survivors and descendants of those killed in the explosion want the federal government to do more to acknowledge the loss of lives in support of the military during the Vietnam War.
Everette, CEO and president of the Thiokol Memorial Project, is urging citizens to ask their elected officials in Congress to create legislation to establish the Thiokol Memorial National Park.
She said the national memorial would preserve artifacts and stories associated with the Thiokol explosion.
The explosion occurred at a work station where flares were manufactured in a place where it wasn’t unusual for small fires to flare up.
The day of the explosion, the fire spread to a conveyor belt and ignited illuminant pellets in containers near the line.
Fire spread to a storage room which contained more than 56,000 flares.
Workers fled the burning building and stood nearby, unaware of a potential explosion.
Two small blasts were followed by a large explosion, which caused the casualties.
Debris from the building was found more than three quarters of a mile away.
What the workers didn’t know was the chemicals they were working with were improperly classified and were more volatile than they were led to believe.
The explosion shook buildings 11 miles away and the sound could be heard as far south as Jacksonville.
By the time the first responders arrived, 24 people had already perished.
Another five people would succumb to injuries. Many of the survivors lost limbs and suffered serious burns.
“The establishment of Thiokol Memorial National Park in Camden County, Ga., would pay tribute to those that gave their all to fulfill a patriotic duty to the nation, as well as preserve their stories along with the stories of a legion of good samaritans that saved many lives on that fateful day and in the days thereafter,” she said.