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Explosion injures at least 10 at Illinois steel plant

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 9:57 a.m. CDT

(MCT) GRANITE CITY, Ill. — Up to 10 workers were injured Thursday morning in an apparent gas explosion at the American Steel plant in Granite City, authorities said.

Granite City Assistant Fire Chief Jim Snelson said gas ignited near a grinding machine shortly before 8 a.m. CST Thursday.

Three of the 10 workers were in critical condition Thursday after being flown by medical helicopters to St. Louis-area hospitals, according to hospital staff. At least one of them was burned and others may have suffered inhalation burns.

Seven of the workers were being treated for smoke inhalation at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City. A hospital spokeswoman said their conditions ranged from “stable to guarded.” Three of the workers were released Thursday.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur was treating two of the patients, said Bethany Pope, a Mercy spokeswoman. Both were in critical condition.

American Steel Foundries is a division of Amsted Rail Co.

No one from the company was available for comment Thursday. Scott Hassall, business manager for Electrical Workers Local 309 that represents some plant employees, said the blast was in an area where the plant produces bolsters, or heavy central frames for railroad car wheel trucks.

Hassall said he could not talk about the incident but could only explain what the line produces where it happened. He said the plant casts the bolsters and then finishes the cooled product with grinding machines. He said the explosion occurred where the grinding, or finishing, takes place.

He said his members were in the plant talking with investigators, which is why he didn’t yet want to discuss the accident.

The workers at the plant also are represented by the United Steel Workers, Machinists, and Pattern Makers unions.

Karl Armstrong, assistant area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Fairview Heights, Ill., said an inspector has been dispatched to the plant to begin an investigation.

In August 2005, two American Steel workers were burned after molten steel spilled from a tub inside the plant. The day of the incident, a company spokesman described the workers’ burns as “superficial.”

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Staff writers Tim O’Neil and Joel Currier contributed to this report.

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©2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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