Chemical Explosions And Chemical Fire Investigation and Expert Witness Testimony

Dr. Harold Zeliger has investigated numerous flammable chemical incidences. These include:

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Flash back fires caused by migrating vapors

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Explosions caused by static discharge

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Spontaneous combustion fires from linseed oil and swimming pool chlorine products

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Fires and explosions triggered by reacting chemicals

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Gasoline fires

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House fires caused by adhesives, paints and floor finishing products

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Explosion of “empty” drums from welding and cutting

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Industrial chemical process fires

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Pesticide bomb fires

Dr. Zeliger's investigation and expert testimony in these areas include accident reconstruction; determination of sources of fuel, oxygen and ignition; burn pattern evaluations; CPSC, OSHA, FDA, EPA, DOT and ATF compliance issues; adequacy of warning labels and Material Safety Data Sheets; and chemical reactivity.

The following case histories are illustrative of some of Dr. Zeliger’s projects.

Case History 1
An individual attempted to relight a bed of charcoal that had apparently extinguished itself by squirting fuel on it. Upon addition of the liquid, a fire erupted and flashed back up the stream of fluid to its container, causing it to erupt into fire and severely injuring the person. The injured party claimed that he had used a commercial lighter fluid. Dr. Zeliger's investigation and experimentation revealed that commercial, combustible, lighter fluid has limited volatility and will not flash back up a stream, regardless of how hot a bed of coals is. A flammable liquid, however, will readily do so. Accordingly, it was determined that a fuel other than lighter fluid, most probably alcohol, was used.

Case History 2
Aerosol cans of paint were used on a balcony that was closed on the bottom and open on the top to recoat a piece of furniture. While the spraying was in progress a fire erupted behind a door to a gas fired heater at the far end of the balcony twenty feet from where the painting was being carried out. The fire flashed back to the painters and severely burned them. Upon investigation, Dr. Zeliger concluded that the fire was caused by the migration of flammable paint solvent vapors from the painting site to the pilot light of the heater. Solvent vapors are denser than air. Upon spraying, the vapors evaporated, sank to ground level and migrated along the floor of the balcony and ultimately under the door to the heater where the ignition took place. Even though this was an outdoor application, the enclosure of the bottom of the balcony prevented dissipation of the heavier than air paint solvent vapors. Dr. Zeliger testified that the product's warning failed to alert the user about potential vapor migration and the need to extinguish pilot lights and other sources of ignition when using that product.

Case History 3
A fire of unknown origin erupted in a warehouse containing swimming pool chlorine tablets and powder. The responding fire company quickly hosed down the fire, extinguished it and departed. Within a short period of time a second alarm went out. This time the building was completely engulfed in flame and chlorine gas was spewing out, necessitating a large scale evacuation. Dr. Zeliger's investigation revealed that the water initially applied wet down the chlorine tablets and powder, causing them to heat up to the point where the wooden pallets holding the chlorine spontaneously combusted. The heat produced by the secondary fire caused large quantities of chlorine gas to be liberated.


1270 Sacandaga Road
West Charlton, NY 12010
Phone:  (518) 882-6800   Fax:  (518) 882-6926

hiz@zeliger.com