One dead, four injured in explosion at Independence ammunition plant

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- One person has died and four were injured after an explosion at an Independence ammunition plant on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Lake City Army Ammunition Plant said in a statement that an explosion occurred at approximately 1 p.m. in a mixing building that resulted in one fatality and four employees being evaluated on scene, who each refused further medical treatment. The deceased victim’s identity has not yet been released.

The 707,000-square foot facility, established in 1940, manufactures small-caliber munitions for the U.S. Army and operates the NATO test center, which performs ammunition reliability testing and weapon testing.

Plant representatives spoke to the media at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Eric Dennis, Lake City Commander, said making ammunition is "dangerous work, and our employees risk their lives to protect our men and women in uniform. This is a sacrifice they make to support our country, and I am humbled by the ultimate sacrifice this employee made today."

Dennis said the explosion was in a primer mixing facility, where various chemical agents are mixed to create the compounds used in ammunition.

Mark Carrick, deputy fire chief in Independence, said the plant has its own fire brigade that is working on the explosion.

The scene has been secured and the ATF is on site to conduct an investigation.

Dennis said the plant has approximately 1,800 government and contractor employees. All workers involved in the accident were employed by contractor Orbital ATK.

Obital ATK Vice President and General Manager Jim Nichols said he was truly saddened by the incident.

"I'd just like to say we're a family out here at Lake City, and today we lost a family member, and our hearts truly go out to the family of the member that we lost," Nichols said.

All workers were sent home Tuesday. Nichols said employees are encouraged to call their "building hotline number" before returning to work Wednesday.

An explosion previously occurred at the plant in 2011. Nichols said no one was injured in that incident.

Dennis took over command of the facility on July 13, 2016, and oversaw a $434 million modernization program that " improved security, safety, manufacturing and infrastructure" at the plant, according to a U.S. Army news release.

Lt. Col. Davis said the building where this happened today did not see any upgrades, or have any changes from that modernization program.

NASDAQ reported Tuesday morning that Orbital ATK had secured a $92 million order from the U.S. Army to be manufactured at the Lake City plant. The report also says that last week the company secured a $21 million contract with the U.S. Navy, and in January received a $50 million order from the U.S. government to supply ammunition to the Department of Defense "in support of international allies."

NASDAQ reports that Orbital ATK is the largest manufacturer of small-caliber ammunition for the U.S. Department of Defense. In the past 17 years, it has manufactured more than 17 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition at the Independence plant.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill said in a statement, “I’m praying for the family of the employee who was killed today at the Lake City plant, and I’m hopeful for a speedy recovery for those injured. I’ll remain in close touch with the Army as we determine how this tragic incident occurred & how we can ensure employee safety.”

Lake City has a government staff of 29 Dept. of Army Civilians and one soldier "to provide contract oversight," the plant spokesperson said in a statement.

The plant consists of 408 buildings, 43 magazines, 9 warehouses, and 11 igloos across 3,935 acres of land.