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Ralston Purina, indicted in sewer blasts, apologizes

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Ralston Purina Co. was indicted by a federal grand jury for a series of powerful sewer explosions last February that caused an estimated $25 million in damages to streets, homes and businesses.

The explosions were believed caused by the leak of a toxic solvent from Ralston's soybean mill.

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James Reed, manager of corporate information for Ralston, said in response to the indictment Wednesday that the firm regretted the events that led up to the explosions last Feb. 13.

'This accident has disturbed us greatly and we regret the inconvenience, dislocation and property damage experienced by the people of Louisville, to whom we apologize,' Reed added.

U.S. Attorney Ron Meredith, in announcing the first criminal proceeding stemming from the explosions, said the firm was charged with violating two federal laws by discharging the toxic solvent hexane into the Ohio River.

The St. Louis-based firm also was accused of discharging hexane - used to extract soybean oil at Ralston Purina's Louisville mill -- into the sewer system and failing to report the leak to federal environmental officials.

If convicted on all counts the company could be fined a total of $62,500.

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The leak of hexane forced sewer officials to divert millions of gallons of untreated sludge into the Ohio, which is used as a drinking water source by numerous downriver communities.

The explosions -- apparently touched off when a hot automobile exhaust system ignited a cloud of hexane rising from the sewers - created 30-feet deep craters and sent manhole covers flying in a 15-square block area later declared a disaster area by President Reagan.

Only four injuries were reported, none serious

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