Two Workers Killed in Explosion
at Monaca’s Horsehead Zinc Plant
Photo: Bill Wade/Post-Gazette
Tina Smith, of Monaca, places a cross outside the Horsehead Corp. plant on Thursday evening.
By Moriah Balingit
July 23, 2010 – An industrial accident at the Horsehead Corp. zinc plant in Beaver County Thursday afternoon claimed the lives of two men and injured at least two other workers.
Neither the company nor the Beaver County coroner’s office would release the names of the two men who died. The coroner’s office said results from autopsies would be released today.
The workers were killed in the plant’s zinc oxide refinery, a part of the plant where molten zinc is turned into zinc oxide. The incident occurred in the zinc distillation columns, three-story-high smokestack-like structures constructed of brick.
One worker who would not give his name reported hearing a large boom followed by what sounded like several small explosions.
But company spokesman Ali Alavi refused to characterize the incident as an explosion, saying the company was still in the fact-finding mode.
Workers gather at Horsehead’s Fence on Route 18
Wesley Hill, director of Beaver County Emergency Services, said two of the workers suffered minor injuries.
Firefighters were called to the scene at 4:39 p.m. for a report of a large smoke release and a working structure fire.
Mr. Hill said he arrived on the scene at around 5 p.m. and found it bustling with frantic plant workers and emergency personnel.
“It was very, very busy … trying to account for everybody, trying to secure the structure,” he said.
Tina Smith said she could see the smoke from a Kohl’s store in Monaca. She rushed over anxious because several friends work at the plant. Her brother, Vito Vigna, works in the plant’s refinery where the accident occurred, but he was not working on Thursday.
Ms. Smith, of Monaca, said she saw a lot of smoke billowing out from one corner of the plant, which is obscured by pine trees.
She brought a small wooden cross, adorned with an artificial purple flower and an electric vigil candle and left it at the plant’s entrance.
She said the plant draws many of its 600 workers from Monaca and other parts of Beaver County.
“If you live in Monaca, you’re pretty much working here because that’s all there is,” she said.
She and other workers said that work can be dirty and dangerous and that the hours are long. Ms. Smith said she knows one man who lost a hand in an accident there.
“I don’t know what they do in there,” she said. “I just know it’s dangerous.”
Mr. Alavi said he did not know if there had been any explosions or fatalities in the past.
The plant has been operating since 1930, but has been owned by at least four different companies since then.
Horsehead Corp. has operated the plant since 2003, he said.
The plant, about 28 miles north of Pittsburgh, is the country’s largest zinc smelter, producing zinc metal and zinc oxide, according to its website.
Some portions of the plant were shut down Thursday night, but some remained in operation.
According to its website, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued citations with proposed penalties of $186,750 in January 2006 at the facility. The results came after an investigation into why an employee stepped into an “uncovered condenser pit full of molten zinc” and suffered severe burns to his legs, according to the site.
OSHA also issued 27 “serious citations” for alleged violations that included a failure to use an approved safety platform, provide guardrails and protection barriers. The agency issued 14 “other-than-serious” violations for “failing to maintain required records of employee exposures to lead and cadmium.”
The Associated Press contributed. Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org or
Thursday July 22, 2010
Two killed in Potter plant blast
By: Bill Utterback
Beaver County Times
Times photo by KEVIN LORENZI Horsehead Corp. workers await word on the fates of colleagues who were inside Thursday afternoon when an explosion occurred. Two men were killed.
POTTER TWP. — A small flame, placed at the foot of a homemade wooden cross, flickered at the gate to the Horsehead Corp. zinc plant for hours after two men died late Thursday afternoon in an explosion.
“This will hit Monaca and Beaver County very hard,” Tina Smith of Monaca, whose brother and ex-husband work at the Horsehead plant, said when she brought the cross to the gate. “We’re very, very upset about this.
“There has always been constant worry for families who have guys working in that plant.”
Beaver County Coroner Teri Tatalovich-Rossi said she pronounced two people dead at the scene, but she would not provide identities pending notification of families. She said they died “in the refinery part of the plant,” but causes of death would not be established until autopsies were completed, possibly today.
Wes Hill, Beaver County director of emergency services, said the deaths were the result of an “industrial explosion,” but its source would not be determined until after a comprehensive investigation involving the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Ali Alavi, Horsehead spokesman, said the incident occurred in a refinery column used to create zinc oxide. He said that it appeared to be “more of an explosion than a fire” and that the incident was still under investigation. He also could not identify the workers and did not know where they were, or what they were doing, at the time of incident.
Horsehead officials canceled the midnight shift that followed the explosion, and Alavi said the plant would be closed indefinitely while the investigation continued.
Hill said the initial report of smoke from the plant came to the Beaver County 911 Center at 4:30 p.m., which was quickly followed by reports of fire from an explosion. The fire was quickly contained, although it took hours for emergency crews to “render the plant safe,” said Hill, who did not release details on the event until around 9:20 p.m.
“Everything in the plant is safe,” Hill said. “There was no danger for the public on the outside.”
Horsehead has had previous incidents in the last few years of fire and a chemical release at its plant in Potter Township.
A fire on July 13, 2008, drew the attention of Hill in the county emergency services office, and the state Department of Environmental Protection, when it was not reported to emergency officials until five hours after it happened, according to a Times report. There was also concern that the company reported a structure fire and did not report chemicals that were involved.
In June 2008, an additive to natural gas was reportedly released, according to a Times report.
In June 2007, an explosion started a fire inside the plant, but Potter Township firefighters responded and no injuries were reported.
Horsehead, according to its corporate website, considers its Beaver County plant to be the world’s largest user of recycled zinc-bearing materials. It produces primarily zinc metal and zinc oxide.
Past dangers at the plant
The Horsehead Corp. plant, formerly Zinc Corporation of America, in Potter Township is no stranger to industrial accidents involving death or serious injuries. Here are some past incidents at the plant on Frankfort Road:
l July 1989: Russell Franks, then 51, of New Castle, and two other workers were overcome by a liquid chlorine tank leak. Franks was hospitalized for chlorine gas inhalation effects.
l January 1990: Floyd Patton, 51, of Center Township and Ernest Arbes, 36, of Conway were killed when they were buried under 20 tons of zinc powder.
l July 1994: James Carnegie II, then 47, of Rochester suffered severe shoulder, arm and leg injuries after he became caught in a conveyor belt.
l April 1997: Tim Sandusky, then 34, of Brighton Township suffered second- and third-degree burns when a vat of hot water and soda ash spilled on him while he was operating equipment at the plant.
l January 2004: Thomas Herman, 71, of Monaca, was crushed by a truck while he was making a delivery at the plant.
l December 2004: An unidentified worker suffered severe leg burns when he stepped into an uncovered condenser pit full of molten zinc. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company $63,000 for violations associated with the accident.