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Two people died and four others suffered injuries after a slag tank explosion Thursday at the TECO power plant in Hillsborough County, FL, officials said.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue units responded to a 911 call about a possible explosion at the Big Bend Power Station at approximately 4:20 p.m.

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Two people were dead at the scene, two ended up airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, and two others were taken by ground, said officials at the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue (HCFR). Three of the other injured workers died later at the hospital.

They all suffered severe burn injuries, said HCFR spokesman Corey Dierdorff.

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The incident occurred at the Big Bend Station, the largest of the three TECO power plants.

Workers were undergoing routine maintenance on a slag tank when the incident occurred, according to a Tampa Electric spokeswoman.

The incident occurred in Unit 2, the second coal-fired generating unit of four at the plant. It occurred near a slag tank, where coal by-product falls after it is burned, said TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs. Hazardous material units deployed to the scene.

TECO workers were conducting routine maintenance on the slag tank at the time, Jacobs said. The company is working with investigators to determine the cause of the incident.

The unit was shut down Thursday afternoon, though two other units continued to run. There were no power outages connected to the incident.

Jacobs said TECO was making resources available for its employees in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Hot slag is a molten by-product created when coal is burned for electricity. Chunks of it fall into cooling tanks and the remnants, which are black and glass-like, are recycled and used in sand blasting and roofing.

Twenty years ago almost to the day, four TECO workers were seriously injured during routine maintenance of a slag tank at a plant in Port Sutton. Two of the injured workers sustained first- and second- degree burns in the June 1997 incident. 

TECO’s Apollo Beach power plant opened in 1970 off the Hillsborough County coast. Unit 2 went online in 1973, according to TECO’s website.

The plant primarily burns coal. However, it has in recent years added natural gas- and oil-fired capabilities.

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