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Facts Known About Fatal Industrial Accident in Wheeling at Sunnyside Chemical Tank

Fri November 30 2012 7:43 am
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Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac speaks with reporters immediately after the recovery of a victim in a fatal industrial accident at Sunnyside Products, 225 Carpenter Avenue in Wheeling.

A man killed in an industrial accident yesterday was a contractor hired to clean a tank at Sunnyside Products, 225 Carpenter Avenue in Wheeling. The project assignment was to clean sludge from the bottom of the tank.

The tank is about 40-50 feet tall and 6,000 gallons with a 28-inch diameter opening at the top, and a chain ladder inside. The hatch opening at the top is the only access to the tank.

The man was found at the bottom of the tank unresponsive, face down in a chemical sludge, and 9-1-1 was called immediately at about 11:15 a.m. Thursday.

Firefighters determined that a rescue was not feasible with the conditions inside the tank — chemical vapors with only 12 percent oxygen. Firefighter operations changed from rescue to recovery. The environment inside the tank was described as an immediate threat to survival.

About 15 fire departments responded with support personnel, technical rescue experts, and equipment. The technical rescue experts included specialists in hazardous materials and work in confined spaces.

The chemical in the tank was methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane (DCM), which is used as a solvent for many chemical purposes. DCM is a serious inhalation hazard, and is metabolized to carbon monoxide in the body, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. It is unknown if the man slipped and fell off of a ladder inside the tank, or if he was overcome by fumes and collapsed into the bottom of the tank. A number of critical personal protection equipment were apparently not worn by the victim. By initial assessment, low oxygen and/or the inhalation of the chemical fumes, which are heavier than air, are believed to be the cause of the victim’s loss of consciousness.

The victim’s body was transported to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office in Chicago.

A partner working on the project, who was not in the tank at any time, expressed health concerns and was transported to Glenbrook Hospital. The two men were the only men working on the project. Immediately after accident, it was the partner who came into the business at about 11:15 a.m. Thursday and requested a call to 9-1-1 because he saw the victim go down and become unresponsive in the tank.

The scene was turned over to OSHA, which is now heading the investigation.

As part of the recovery, two trained people with full protective gear went inside the tank, two people in full protective gear were on standby at the top of the tank for the purpose of rescuing the rescuers, and other personnel with full protective gear were standing by to complete the decontamination procedure as the rescuers’ suits would be covered with the harmful chemical with the risk of “off-gassing” of the vapors of the chemical.

VIDEO Technical Rescue firefighters work in a confined space and at the top of a tank containing a methylene chloride sludge — working to remove a man who was victim of a fatal industrial accident.

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