Blue Island Phenol chemical plant explosion, fire injures 2 in Alsip

December 13, 2013 (ALSIP, Ill.)

PHOTOS: Refinery Fire

The fire was out by late Friday afternoon, but firefighters remained on the scene after a fiery explosion at a south suburban chemical plant. It happened shortly at the Blue Island Phenol plant before noon in Alsip in unincorporated Cook County.

Blue Island Phenol is a chemical plant that operates 24 hours a day. The vapor leak came from a raw material used to process a chemical. The plant's manager says there was an explosion and fire during that process.

"The unit where the fire occurred is called cumene. That is the ultimate product that comes out of that unit. That material is made from two chemicals that react together in two reactors," said Moffatt.

Two workers investigating the explosion were burned but were able to walk away from the scene. They were first taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Later, they were moved to Loyola Medical Center, which has one of the area's best burn units, where they were stabilized.

Doctors there explain the importance of treating these types of injuries right away and beginning the healing process.

"The burns would initially be treated with antibiotic-type dressing as well as see that they have adequate IV access. Since the burn does cause a significant inflammatory response, there is a need to give a large amount of fluid to maintain their circulation," said Dr. Michael Mosier, Loyola burn surgeon.

Around 150 people were displaced for a short time while the fire department worked the scene.

Because of the location of the fire, in the middle of the plant, firefighters had to let the fire burn out on its own.

Due to the chemicals produced at the plant, there was initial concern about people nearby, as well as the environment. Evacuations that had been put in place earlier on Friday have since been canceled. Environmental and hazardous materials agencies were called in, as well as Cook County Homeland Security, but at this point Eyewitness News is told there is no danger to the public. However, 131st Street remains closed.

"I heard over the intercom system that there was some type of release, and so I just walked from my office about 50 yards to look out the window. At that point, I returned to my office and got my coat and hard hat, but as I was returning to the office, there was some type of a concussion and then there was a subsequent large fire," said Bill Moffat, plant manager, Blue Island Phenol.

"We only have ten firefighters here because of where the fire is at inside the plant, it is hard to get to, so we're using unmanned monitoring devices. We have one power ladder in place and just monitoring the area right now," said Chief Thomas Styczynski, Alsip Fire Department.

In 2008, there was another leak at the same plant and another big fire. After that fire, the company installed a system that would put out a fire on the inside, or at least keep it cooler. That system was in place Friday and we understand that kept the situation from getting worse.

An investigation into what caused the fire is underway.

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