Worker killed while cleaning tank at Wheeling plant

November 29, 2012 (WHEELING, Ill.)

The man fell into a 6,000-gallon, 50-feet deep tank, and the area the rescuers were working in was only 28-inches wide, the size of a manhole, which ultimately made the rescue impossible.

Close to 15 fire departments, including Wheeling, along with special rescue technicians, worked feverishly to rescue the man who was attempting to clean the storage tank when he fell into it late Thursday morning.

They found the worker at the bottom of the tank, unresponsive, and it soon became apparent this was no longer a rescue.

"We arrived on the scene and found an individual at the bottom of that tank with some partial chemicals in the bottom of that tank," said Wheeling Fire Department Chief Keith MacIsaac. "The patient was unresponsive. We assessed the air situation and found it to be an oxygen-deficient atmosphere, as well as charged with chemical vapors. We have moved from a rescue operation to a recover operation."

Chief MacIsaac said there was no way to recover the individual due to the confined space nature of the tank and the oxygen deficiency.

The individual was an outside contractor working for Phoenix Industrials in Bellwood. He was at Sunnyside Chemical Company in Wheeling to perform a cleaning operation.

Chief MacIsaac said methylene chloride was in the tank.

"It appears the individual was overcome by chemical vapors within the tank, based upon the limited chemical equipment that this individual was wearing," he said. "His respirator is laying away from him. He's fully unmasked and unprotected on the face, so he has no breathing apparatus on him."

There has been no response from Phoenix Industrials at this time.

Methylene chloride is a powerful chemical solvent and when exposed to it, it can be fatal.

The workers at the plant had to be decontaminated before being released from the site.

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