Blowtorch Ignites Methane Gas Explosion at Chicago Water Treatment Plant, Injures 10

On Thursday morning, an explosion occurred at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant on the Far South Side of Chicago. The incident occurred around 11 A.M. and injured 10 people. Authorities have confirmed that crews were using a blowtorch in a building that had filled with methane gas. One worker stated that he saw the roof lift off the building before it came crumbling down upon fleeing workers.

After the explosion, eight of the injured workers managed to escape the building. However, first responders quickly began rescue operations after they were notified that two people were still trapped inside the treatment plant. Firefighters freed one of the trapped workers after about 20 minutes while the other worker was “buried and entombed” and required a more extensive rescue effort. Specially trained crews had to dig a 40-foot tunnel to reach the worker, who was severely injured by the rubble that was trapping him.

When the 30 first responders reached the worker, they found a person who was pinned under metal and concrete with a broken jaw and injuries to his legs. Doctors were contacted at the University of Chicago so that rescuers could properly treat the man and avoid amputating his leg. After two hours, the worker was airlifted to the University of Chicago trauma center for treatment.

Officials have confirmed that 8 of the 10 injured worked have been released from hospitals.

A Buildup of Methane

The accident occurred in the sludge concentration building of the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. The walls of the building remain standing around remnants of the collapsed roof. The plant was built in 1922 and is the oldest water treatment plant in Cook County. It serves a 300-square-mile section of Cook County with a population of approximately 1 million.

A spokesperson confirmed the Office of Fire Investigations determined that a blowtorch was being used by workers in an area with a dangerous level of methane gas. As a gas with no odor, methane frequently causes accidents at plants such as this. Methane is naturally released from sewage that the plant treats.

The industrial accident attorneys at Arnold & Itkin hope that the investigation’s findings help to improve safety conditions at the plant so that future accidents will be avoided.

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