Calumet Water Reclamation Plant Explosion Investigation Continues

Sept. 7, 2018

Nine of 10 injured during the explosion have been released from hospital care

Officials are still investigating the cause of the explosion at the sludge concentration building at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant on the Far South Side of Chicago.

Of the 10 individuals injured during the incident, which also resulted in a roof collapse, nine have been released from medical care. According to Allison Fore, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) public affairs officer, some of those injured have already returned to work and the remaining hospitalized worker is on a quick path to recovery.

“We’re hoping for a speedy recovery. He is anticipated to be released from the hospital soon,” Fore said, adding the MWRDGC offered support services to employees at the award-winning plant. “An Inova Employee Assistance Program councelor was at the plant and available to all employees. We also posted Inova EAP’s information for people to contact 24/7.”

Fore said MWRDGC does not know the exact cause of the explosion, noting that OSHA and the Illinois Department of Labor are conducting investigations. MWRD has also retained a forensic investigator to determine the cause. Reports from the Chicago Tribune and ABC Chicago indicate a torch was in use near the plant at the time of the explosion, and that methane gas played a factor.

Damage to the plant was primarily electrical, Fore said.

“The electrical feed to some solids pumps were lost,” Fore said. “Trades worked around the clock to repipe around a holding tank and to restore power to digester feed pumps and concentration tank pumps so we could pump solids to the concentration tanks and then to the digesters.”

One of the trapped workers was rescued about 20 minutes after the blast ripped through a sludge concentration building, according to Chicago fire officials.

Firefighters removed a metal beam from another worker's legs while paramedics worked to keep the worker from going into shock, according to the Chicago Tribune. Emergency crews made sure to relieve pressure on the worker's arms and legs so he would not face amputation.

"Companies had to dig 6 feet down and then tunnel their way across 20 feet to the victim," said Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago to the Chicago Tribune.

The worker was "buried and entombed" by fallen debris and it took firefighters two hours to free him, reported the Chicago Tribune. Airlifted to the University of Chicago Medical Center with leg injuries and a broken jaw, he was listed in critical condition but still somewhat alert. The other injured workers were listed in serious to critical condition as they were taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, University of Chicago Medical Center, Stroger Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

"It took a lot of training, a lot of exercise," said William Vogt, in charge of fire operations at the scene. "They went to work on this guy and they did a phenomenal job. It was a very dangerous situation but they made sure they had everything stored properly."