State labor officials investigate Aerojet explosion

State labor safety officials are investigating an explosion Tuesday that rocked the Aerojet Rocketdyne campus in Rancho Cordova and injured two workers.

Authorities released few details about the incident, which occurred just before 8 a.m. Investigators have not said what caused the explosion or what the workers were doing.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department concluded that the incident was not criminal and has turned the probe over to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

“It appears to be an industrial accident,” said Sgt. Lisa Bowman, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman.

Multiple units from the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District were called to the scene by Aerojet officials. No fire was found upon their arrival.

One employee was taken to a hospital and another was treated on site, Aerojet confirmed in a written statement. Peter Melton, a Cal-OSHA spokesman, said one worker suffered serious injuries. Their names have not been released.

Helicopter video footage on Channel 3 (KCRA) showed a tattered white warehouse with its door and roof blown off. Pieces of debris were scattered in the vicinity, while a metal barrel and other machinery sat inside the facility.

The video also showed a small contingent of emergency personnel scouring the site, located in an isolated area and described by authorities only as “Building 05030.” Ten deputies from the Sheriff’s Department responded, including three bomb squad detectives, Bowman said. FBI agents were also present, she said.

Two Cal-OSHA safety inspectors arrived on scene Tuesday afternoon and were “assessing the situation,” Melton said.

At Aerojet Gate 3 across from the Folsom Lake Honda dealership, it was business as usual. Workers came and went, zipping through the gate near a battery of TV cameras. Aerojet employees declined to comment.

Officials were slow to release information Tuesday, with the first confirmation of an explosion coming four hours after the fact.

“The information sharing is a little difficult,” Bowman told reporters at a noon press conference. “Private companies have to go through their chain of command to release specific information.”

Rancho Cordova city officials were similarly left in the dark.

“We were trying to get information ourselves,” city spokesman Troy Holt said. “If it was out on the streets in Rancho Cordova, I would know a whole lot more.”

Aerojet assured city officials there was no risk to Rancho Cordova’s 67,000 residents, Holt added.

The last accident at the Aerojet campus occurred in 2005, when an employee committed suicide, according to Cal-OSHA. Four complaints against the company have been filed since 2006. A routine inspection in December 2010 found five violations, including one related to sulfuric acid. Aerojet was subsequently fined $1,695.

During its heyday in the 1960s, Aerojet built rocket engines for the space program and weapons that were part of the United States’ Cold War arsenal. The roar of engines being tested could be heard for miles around.

In the last four decades, the company has tried to reinvent itself. Aerojet and its parent company, GenCorp, tried to diversify, putting money into electronics, chemicals and auto parts. Earlier this year, GenCorp Inc.’s $550 million takeover of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne was cleared by the Federal Trade Commission.