An explosion at US Steel’s Great Lakes Works Zug Island mill in River Rouge, Michigan, near Detroit on Friday night sent 15 boilermakers to local hospitals. Police and fire crews were called to the scene after the explosion. According to a statement released by US Steel on Saturday, all workers affected were contract employees hired through Songer Services, a heavy industrial general contracting firm. As of Saturday, 12 of the workers had been released and three remained in treatment.
The full extent of the injuries suffered by workers is unknown at this time and press reports indicate an ongoing investigation into the cause of the blast. According to the company’s statement, the explosion occurred at the D4 Blast Furnace and involved the dust catcher.
Boilermakers contacted by a local news outlet said the workers had been told by supervisors to clean out the dust separator, which was packed with ash, but they initially resisted, saying it was a safety issue.
As a result of the ensuing explosion ash fell on all 15 boilermakers. One boilermaker crawled on his hands and knees to pull another boilermaker out of the ash. He and two others are still hospitalized with serious injuries, including severe burns.
A blast furnace is the first step in the steel-making process. Its role is to purify iron ore, which consists of iron minerals and impurities, into a molten metal of about 95 per cent iron content. The temperatures inside these massive furnaces can reach over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Large amounts of dust can accumulate in plants that are inconsistently and improperly maintained. Dust explosions occur under conditions when the dust is suspended in air, ignites under exposure to high heat and is confined such that damaging pressures can accumulate. The risk of dust explosions is reduced significantly with the implementation of proper engineering controls, ventilation, training and regular maintenance.