Injury Toll Rises to 20 In Pittsburgh Coke Works Explosion

The number of people injured in an explosion at a U.S. Steel facility 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania yesterday has risen to 20. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blast at U.S. Steel Corporation’s Clairton Plant, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States.

Coke is a fuel made from coal that is used to produce steel. According to the U.S. Steel Web site, the Clairton plant has 12 coke oven batteries and 75 ovens that produce approximately 4.7 million tons of coke annually. The explosion occurred in the facility’s number 2 B battery, its largest, shortly after 9:30 a.m. yesterday.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, officials are trying to figure out why coke-oven gas ignited. Apparently, there was a gas leak, despite denials from some officials yesterday. How the gas leaked and an ignition source have still not been determined.

The explosion was strong enough to blast out concrete block walls and bend steel beams, the Post-Gazette said. Robert A. Full, Allegheny County’s emergency management chief, said some workers standing near the explosion were enveloped by the fireball. He said it was a “miracle” all survived. Even workers’ flame-resistant clothing burned.

Of the injured, 14 were company employees and six were contractors. They were taken to several area hospitals: UPMC Mercy, UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC McKeesport, Jefferson Regional and West Penn, the Post-Gazette. At UPMC McKeesport, where the injured were initially treated, a decontamination unit was set up.

Of three men taken to the West Penn Burn Unit, two are in critical condition. A doctor there told the Post-Gazette that those patients, both men in their 50s suffered chemical burns in their airways. The third man, in his 40’s, has burns over 10 to 12 percent of his body and an ankle fracture. All are expected to survive.

According to the Post-Gazette, six men were taken to UPMC Mercy, where five remain. One is in critical condition, while four are listed serious. All the victims, men with ages ranging from their 20s to 50s, had second- and third-degree burns, but are expected to do well.

The sixth individual taken to Mercy was treated for a soot-related injury and released.

The fire at the plant burned until about 2:45 p.m. Officials with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating.

According to the Post-Gazette, this is the second explosion at the Clairton facility since last September, when a blast in one of two control rooms killed one man and injured another.

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