Long Island City, NY Gum Factory Blast, Nov 1976


New York (AP) -- The explosion and flash fire that injured 55 workers at the American Chicle gum factory claimed its first life today.
Officials at Elmhurst Hospital said SAMUEL AEYEKUM, 34, of Brooklyn, died this morning from burns of 95 per cent of his body.
The explosion ripped through four floors of the factory early yesterday morning, spewing steel, concrete and molten gum into the street.
One fireman on the scene said, "It was a miracle" that none of the 150 people working the all-night shift was killed immediately by the blast early yesterday. Witnesses said the force of the explosion hurled some of the victims to the street.
About 25 persons were burned severely. Because of a shortage of burn facilities here, some had to be taken to hospitals in neighboring states. A few of the critically injured had burns over 90 per cent of their bodies, and hospital officials said they feared some would not survive.
"It was really horrible, I saw men with their clothing and skin burned off," said CHRIS BOGGIO, 19, a helper at the plant. "The blast thew me clean across the room."
TEDDY ORZECHOWSKA of Brooklyn suffered burns over 30 per cent of his body. "I was in the middle of the flames. I didn't know where to run," he said.
The aroma of spearmint filled the air and hot gum stuck to the boots of firemen battling the blaze.
Fire marshals, sifting through the debris in the six-story brick structure in the Long Island City section of Queens theorized that a stray spark may have ignited combustible dust, triggering the blast.
Most of the damage was on the fourth floor, where casement window reinforcements were blown out and a loaded cabinet weighing about two tons was blown into the street, crushing a parked car.
Windows were blown out on three sides of the block-long plant, and adjacent streets were strewn with debris ranging from pieces of machinery to gum wrappers.
Witnesses described a nightmarish scene of victims stumbling from the building, their clothing burned away and flesh peeling from their bodies. In many cases the burns were compounded by molten gum stuck to the skin.
The company, a division of the Warner-Lambert Company, closed operations at the factory pending clearance from safety officials. A spokesman advised the plant's 1,600 employes to stay home until supervisors contact them.
But the company said the availability of its products -- Chiclets, Dentyne, Trident, Freshen-Up and Dynamints -- probably would not be affected.
Most of the victims were taken first to nearby Elmhurst Hospital, but 27 later were transfered, some to hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for burn treatment.
New York has a shortage of burn-treatment facilities. Last week, two electricians burned in a Park Avenue explosion had to be flown to Brooks Army Hospital in San Antonio for treatment because burn units here were filled.

Syracuse Herald Journal New York 1976-11-22



Upland -- Five persons brought to Crozer Chester Medical Center's Burn Unit Sunday from New York City where they had been burned in a factory explosion remained in "critical" condition today.
The two women and three men were among 55 workers in the American Chiclet Co., chewing gun factory in Queens, who were injured when what is believed to have been a nitrogen gas explosion occurred on the fourth floor of the factory. Part of the wall was blown out of the building by the force of the early morning blast. Many of those who were badly burned were taken to burn centers outside of New York City for treatment.

Delaware County Daily Times Chester Pennsylvania 1976-11-23


American Chicle Plant Explosion 1976

The explosion was not caused by sugar. It was caused by magnesium stearate powder used to coat the converted gum-making equipment (originally designed for hard candy) as a mold release agent. The flammable powder made its way into the electric motors through cooling vents, where it was ignited.

American Chicle Plant Explosion 1976

Yes, excelsior was not the problem in this explosion. Actually, the explosion was primarily caused by the highly-compustable super-fine sugar dust which was never properly vented, despite the pleas of at least one dedicated and knowledgeable manager. He would tell us, his family, that the executives refused to listen. He had already left Chicle to work elsewhere when the horrific event happened. He was devastated when he heard the news. Love you Dad.

Chiclet plant explostion

Except excelsior had nothing to do with the explosion. The dust that exploded was magnesium stereate.

American Chicle disaster

I remember this horror only too well, even though when it occurred I had already moved from NJ to New England. It was my former husband, now deceased, who had worked for American Chicle as a microbiologist in the summer and fall of 1973 and warned the management repeatedly of the danger of large amounts of excelsior--one of the most combustible materials on the planet--that was kept in a room filled to the ceiling with no containment! I recall the stress he had because of management's blase attitude and near-derision of his agitated concern. And so nothing was done about it...little speculation needed, as to what caused the explosion! A horror that could have been prevented with little effort!