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WI Mill Fly Ash Leaves 1 Dead, 1 Burned

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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Authorities are investigating the death of one worker and severe injury of another who were both burned by fly ash at a Wisconsin paper mill.

The same mill was the site of a tank explosion that killed three employees and injured a fourth in 2008.

This week’s accident occurred about 8:20 a.m. Tuesday (July 17) at Packaging Corporation of America’s Tomahawk Containerboard Mill, in Bradley, WI.

 Packaging Corporation of America paper mill

 U.S. Chemical Safety Board

An explosion at the same Packaging Corporation of America mill in 2008 claimed the lives of three employees and prompted the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to develop materials warning of the dangers of hot work.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s office in Appleton, WI, and the Lincoln County (WI) Sheriff’s Department were both investigating.

Maintenance Contractors

The victims worked for Inland Systems Inc., a cleaning and maintenance service based in Ontonagon, MI. Inland Systems officials were at the scene of the accident Wednesday (July 18) and unavailable for comment, a woman at that company said.

Both men were airlifted to the University of Wisconsin – Madison Burn Center, where one later died.

The deceased man was identified as Dennis Jay Gougeon, 47, of Ontonagon, MI. Authorities said he had been fatally burned by fly ash. The other worker—Dustin Hale, 29, of Ontonagon—was reported in critical condition Wednesday.

Authorities released no details on what the men were doing at the time of the accident. Ron Zimmerman, PCA’s human resources manager, told the Wausau Daily Herald that PCA had contracted with Inland Systems for years without incident. Inland Systems has no record with OSHA.

Fly ash is a fine powder residue recovered from gases created by the burning of coal.  Fly ash is a common by-product of industrial sites such as paper mills, which require large amounts of electrical power. Many paper mills have their own power plants. Fly ash is the largest component of coal combustion waste, with about 67.7 million short tons generated in 2010 in the United States.

2008 Blast

The same PCA mill was the site of an explosion that blew apart an 80- by-40-foot outdoor tank on July 29, 2008. Three PCA employees—a manager, a marketing estimator and a welder—were conducting repairs on top of the tank, which contained 88 percent reused mill water and white water and 12 percent recycled corrugated material that had been mechanically reduced to fiber.

OSHA determined that the welder had ignited hydrogen and methane gas in the headspace of the tank. The gases had been generated by anaerobic bacteria that fed on the starches released into the recycled mill water while the used corrugated material was reduced to fiber. OSHA said the manager failed to conduct air monitoring inside the tank before the welding began—a common cause of fatal tank explosions in recent years.

Two of the workers were killed instantly; a third died a short time later. A fourth employee working near the tank suffered minor injuries.

OSHA cited the mill for four serious and two other-than-serious violations, and the company paid a $22,500 fine.

The proximity of that event would make the mill potentially subject to repeat citations if any hazards uncovered in this investigation are similar to those reported in 2008.

Hot Work Dangers

The 2008 PCA accident led the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to develop a video and other materials to warn of the “Dangers of Hot Work,” which has triggered a series of deadly blasts in recent years.

In 2009, a worker at another Wisconsin packaging company was killed in an explosion apparently ignited by a hand grinder he was using near a wash unit that contained cleaning solvents. The blast blew apart the tank, hurling the worker 30 feet and killing him instantly.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Coal Combustion Residuals; Health and safety; Tanks and vessels

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