Accidents at water and wastewater plants injure workers

In Chicago, on August 30, 2018, 10 people were injured following an explosion at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant’s sludge concentration building. Photo Credit: IHC Construction Companies LLC.

Following two deaths at Canadian water plants in recent months, and two worker deaths at a wastewater treatment plant in Wichita Falls, Texas, 10 people have now been injured in the U.S. following a water plant explosion in Chicago.

The two Canadian deaths, which occurred in Winnipeg in late May, and Fredericton in August, both involved fatal falls. The Winnipeg worker was a 58-year-old employee at the water treatment plant, who fell while working at the top of a chemical storage tank. The $300-million drinking water treatment plant, which opened in 2009, can treat 400 million litres of water per day.

At the Fredericton facility, the death involved an 18-year-old contract worker who was part of a construction crew installing a secondary clarifier tank at the Barker Street wastewater treatment plant. The plant treats 95% of the area’s wastewater, with the remaining 5% treated at two lagoons.

The two worker deaths at the Texas-based wastewater treatment plant in July were the result of exposure to fatal levels of hydrogen sulfide during routine repairs. According to a news report in the Times Record News of Wichita Falls, the maintenance workers had removed their breathing masks and air tanks. One worker, the newspaper reported, suggested that the men’s tanks had been running low and were in the process of being changed.

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City officials in Wichita Falls have sought to determine how the hydrogen sulfide levels became so highly concentrated.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, on August 30, 2018, 10 people were injured following an explosion at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant’s sludge concentration building. Early reports from the Office of Fire Investigation about the explosion, which caused part of the building’s roof to collapse and trap two workers, suggest that the explosion was caused by the use of a welding torch in an area of the building with significant methane gas present.

Most of the injured employees have since been released from hospital.

The damaged plant, in operation since 1922, is the oldest of seven wastewater treatment facilities owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago.

“The MWRD is extremely grateful for the tremendous effort put forth by the Chicago Fire Department and other emergency responders in extricating the two trapped workers and attending to all of the injured,” the agency said in a statement to local media.

Lastly, two employees were injured in a lime dust explosion at a water treatment plant in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 15. The workers received chemical burns in the incident.

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