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3rd Worker Killed at Wastewater Plant

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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A third worker has perished at a Tennessee wastewater treatment plant while working to remove the wreckage that fatally crushed two other men last April.

Michael Eugene Wells, 58, of Candler, NC, was killed about 10 a.m. Feb. 23 when an earthen wall collapsed at the Gatlinburg Wastewater Treatment Plant.

 Workers comb the debris of a collapsed wastewater equalization basin wall that killed two men last April in Gatlinburg, TN
Workers comb the debris of a collapsed wastewater equalization basin wall that killed two men last April in Gatlinburg, TN.

Wells, an equipment operator, “was struck from behind with dirt and rock, and received fatal wounds," the city said in a brief statement.

Wells worked for Roberson Construction of Enka, NC, a subcontractor of NEO Corp., of Canton, NC. NEO Corp. had contracted with the City of Gatlinburg to demolish a 40-foot-high basin that collapsed April 5, killing two employees and unleashing 1.3 million gallons of raw sewage.

Investigations Underway

The cause and details of Wells’ death are under investigation. Gatlinburg Police have not released their report, citing the ongoing investigation by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA investigations typically take about six months.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller told The Mountain Press that Wells had been working to remove the remains of a large concrete tank that collapsed last year.

The tank had been built into the side of a mountain, and its removal left a 20-foot vertical earthen wall, the newspaper reported. Part of that wall collapsed and struck Wells, the chief told the paper.

A lawyer for Wells’ widow told The Mountain Press that Wells' duties included cutting rebar and welding.

‘What Happened, and Why’

Marjorie Mae Wells “is devastated,” Asheville attorney Brad Searson told the newspaper. “She wants to know what happened and why it happened."

Roberson could not be reached for comment, and no information was available on the company. A woman who answered the phone at the company’s published number Wednesday (Feb. 29) said the company was not at that number.

Meanwhile, NEO Corp. issued this statement:  "We are saddened by this event and would like to express our deepest sympathy to the family and are working with all local, state, federal officials and his employer to determine the cause of this tragedy.”

NEO, the oldest environmental company in North Carolina, provides a variety of services, including abatement of asbestos, lead and mold; underground storage tank removal; building demolition; and waste management.

2011 Collapse

The collapse last April killed John Eslinger, 53, and Don Storey, 44, employees of Veolia Water North America, the Chicago-based company that operates the Gatlinburg plant and more than 200 others.

In October, TOSHA blamed the collapse on the use of uncoated, ungalvanized rebar and other major construction deficiencies in the 18-inch-thick concrete containment wall.

TOSHA reported that plant workers had discovered cracks and lateral displacement/bowing of the basin’s north wall and walkway a year after the structure was completed in 1996. Some walls were then buttressed, but not all—including the one that eventually collapsed.

The report noted, among other things, that neither the couplers that failed nor the rebar was either galvanized or epoxy-coated.

TOSHA issued no citations in the case, however, because both the engineering and construction companies that designed and built the plant had long been out of business.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Concrete; Containment; Fatalities; OSHA; Tanks and vessels; Wastewater Plants

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