Thursday, July 15, 2010

Federal Agencies Investigate Clairton Blast

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are the lead investigators of the explosion at U.S. Steel's Clairton Works. The explosion at the coke making operations injured 20 people Wednesday morning. Three of the 12 workers who remain hospitalized are in critical condition. A U.S. Steel spokeswoman issued a statement saying the accident occurred while maintenance work was being performed in the basement of the "B" Battery. That portion of the plant is closed, but the rest of the plant is operating normally today.

Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Robert Full says "it's a miracle nobody was killed." Full says the blast was so powerful that it blew out concrete block walls and bent steel beams. Full says he expects the focus of the investigation to be on coke-oven gas. The investigation by OSHA and ATF is expected to take several weeks.
Mike Wright, Director of Health Safety and Environment for the United Steelworkers union spectulates coke-oven gas was involved. He says that's what tends to be present on a coke battery and if it is released and finds a source of ignition it can cause this type of explosion. Last September one man was killed and another person injured in an explosion at the U.S. Steel Clairton plant. Wright says it was caused by coke-oven gas, but the explosion was in a different area of the plant. He says they don't know yet if there are underlying causes similar to Wednesday morning's accident.

UPMC Mercy is one of the hospitals caring for injured workers. They received 6 victims yesterday. One man was released, 5 others are hospitalized with burns. Dr. Alain Corcos says one of the men is in critical condition because of heat injury and swelling of his airways. He says the man's lungs are okay. The other three workers at Mercy are in serious condition. All the men have 2nd and 3rd degree burns.
The names of the victims have not been released.

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