Vicki Smith, Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia chemical plant where three men died in a December explosion will fight federal safety violations issued against it last month.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration received notice last week that AL Solutions in New Cumberland plans to contest the 18 violations, said spokeswoman Lenore Uddyback-Fortson. Sixteen of those violations were considered serious and one was labeled willful. Only one, involving record-keeping on injuries and illnesses, was classified as minor.

OSHA says the titanium and zirconium recycler could have prevented the Dec. 9 tragedy in the Northern Panhandle but instead exposed workers to unnecessary risks. It has proposed $154,000 in fines.

The accident remains under investigation by other agencies, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, and AL Solutions said Thursday it won't comment until all those probes are complete.

The OSHA case will now go to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent federal agency that handles contested violations and determines penalties.

The commission will assign an administrative law judge to hear the case. After that proceeding, either side could take the ruling to a federal appellate court.

In January, the CSB's chief investigator said metal shavings or dust were the likely fuel for the explosion, but the team was still trying to determine which form ignited and how.

The victims were processing both metals when the blast happened. Brothers Jeff Fish and James Fish, both of New Cumberland, died along with co-worker Steven Swain of Weirton.

It was the third fatal explosion at the Northern Panhandle plant in 15 years.

OSHA cited AL Solutions for using an unsafe water sprinkler system with flammable materials, saying that willful violation created an explosion hazard.

The serious violations included failure to provide a proper hydrogen gas detection system, over-pressure protection, emergency egress, personal protective equipment and hazard communication training.

AL Solutions also has a plant in Washington, Mo.