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Investigation begins into U.K. wastewater plant blast that killed four

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Officials at U.K.-based Wessex Water have vowed to figure out why four men died earlier this month in a large explosion at its wastewater treatment plant in Bristol.

The December 3 blast killed three of the plant’s water workers and one contractor. Another employee was also hospitalized with serious injuries, according to the Avon and Somerset Police.

Speaking of the victims’ families, Chief Inspector Mark Runacres said, “This is a tragic incident and our thoughts and sympathies go out to them. Those officers will continue to provide them with all the support they need at this difficult time.”

While names were not officially released, Wessex Water opened an online Book of Condolence and fundraiser for the departed workers. Colleagues later identified the victims online as Brian Vickery, Mike James, Ray White and 16-year-old Luke Wheaton.

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The explosion came from inside one of the water recycling site’s anaerobic digestion silos, an oxygen-free tank that produces agricultural fertilizer and renewable energy, police told media. Images of the silo circulating on social media revealed that its roof had blown off. Witnesses at the scene also told reporters that it felt like the blast “shook” the entire plant.

Although investigations into the cause of the blast are ongoing, police were quick to rule out the possibility of terrorism.

Biosolids can produce flammable methane gas when treated with bacteria. Just last month in Hamilton, Ontario, police responded to a substantial explosion at the biosolids building of the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant on November 18. Although nobody was injured, the explosion caused about $70,000 in damage.

In a statement, Wessex Water Chief Executive Colin Skellett said his team is “absolutely devastated,” and that they “are working with the Health and Safety Executive to understand what happened and why.”

“Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of those involved,” added Skellett.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “our hearts go out” to the victims of the disaster and their families.

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