Dangerous explosions happen at chemical plants across the country and a deadly accident in Waukegan last spring reminds residents that Illinois is not immune. When used or stored improperly, hazardous chemicals can cause catastrophic explosions and large fires that result in serious injuries and fatalities to hundreds of workers.
Chemical Plants Pose Dangers to Workers
Chemical plant explosions are usually caused by three main elements – toxic gas fumes, high heat, and a dangerous reaction. For an explosion to happen, chemicals must generate a large amount of gas within a short amount of time. Typically, chemicals become explosive when they come into contact with oxygen in the air. Even chemicals that aren’t usually dangerous can generate a powerful explosion.
In May 2019, a ground-shaking explosion at the AB Specialty Silicones factory in Waukegan, Illinois killed three people. The explosion was so powerful that it was felt miles away from the plant in Pleasant Prairie. Some people say it was felt as far away as Wisconsin. The Lake County Sheriff’s Department and more than 100 first responders were dispatched to the scene which was described as a catastrophic event. The 375,000 square-foot building at AB Specialty Silicones Plant contained a large chemistry lab that manufactured raw materials. Although the exact cause of the explosion has not been determined, it’s suspected that the cause was a gas line leak.
In 2019, numerous chemical plant explosions have been reported throughout the US:
- June 19 – Five workers at a Tyson Foods Poultry Plant in northwest Arkansas were hospitalized after a cleaning agent was spilled.
- May 13 – A chemical spill caused an explosion at the Tipp City water treatment plant in Dayton, Ohio when a drum of Fluoroacetic acid overturned.
- May 2 – A lab experiment at the University of Maryland caused a fire and explosion. Seventeen people, including nine firefighters, were taken to a local hospital.
- April 30 – A fire at the American Zinc Recycling Plant in Mooresboro, NC released toxic sulfuric acid into the atmosphere, evacuating everyone within one-half mile of the plant.
Fire and explosions in chemical plants cause thousands of workplace injuries every year. Although OSHA has strict safety regulations in place, toxic gases can cause arc flashes and powerful explosions within minutes.