The explosion happened late last month at the Teva Tech active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing facility in Ramat Hovav, Israel. Though the exact cause has not been released by the company, Israeli news site ynetnews.com said it was most likely caused by a malfunctioned reactor.
However, Teva spokesperson Denise Bradley told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that “the damage to the facility was to equipment” and “is not structural.”
Though all operations were initially stopped following the blast, Bradley said Teva has “recently begun very limited production at the site.”
Teva initially responded with a statement, as reprinted in Hebrew newspaper Ma’ariv, explaining there was an explosion in one of the reactors at the plant on the evening of May 23, killing the operator. 31 other workers were injured, twenty of which due to smoke inhalation.
The company said: “Teva expresses deep sorrow over the loss and is in continuous contact with the familes of the injured to take care of all their needs resulting from this incident.”
The Ramat Hovav site is one of three API manufacturing sites in Israel as part of the chemistry division of Teva Pharmaceuticals, TAPI (Teva's Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients). The plant currently produces over 100 products, including Gabapentin, Furosemide, Azithromycin, Clarithromycin, Venlafaxine and the API for multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone.
Croatian Fire and the Danger of Drugs
The incident is the second in three months for Teva. Nine people were injured and one died at a fire at Croatian subsidiary Pliva Pharmaceuticals (acquired in 2008) in Zagreb, caused by an electrical short circuit.
The facility manufactures - amongst others - the generic attention deficit disorder drug Adderall for Teva and was forced to halt production for a short time after the event in order to carry out a full investigation.
Though of course the two incidents were not related, Bradley said: “One of Teva’s top priorities is the safety of our employees and we have safety policies and procedures in place at all of our facilities.”
Due to the nature of pharmaceutical manufacturing and inflammable ingredients, there is always a risk of fire or explosion. A blast at Chinese drugmaker Quanxin killed five employees in 2010, and six Cambrex employees were injured in an explosion at an Iowan facility in 2007, leading to the firm being fined for being in breach of safety regulations.
In April this year contract manufacturer Novasep described one key reagent – Togni II – is as explosive as gunpowder, whilst the inventor of such reagent told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that many drug producing chemicals have similar profiles.