Investigators are looking into a gas leak as the possible cause of a plant explosion Thursday leaving at least 10 people injured, including two critically, at a steel castings plant in southwestern Illinois, officials said.
The blast occurred shortly after 8 a.m. in the cleaning-and-finishing department at the American Steel Foundries plant in Granite City, IL, just northeast of St. Louis.
The explosion occurred after gas caught fire in the finishing area of the plant, which makes railcar components, though what caused the ignition was not immediately available, said Granite City Fire Captain Bert Houston.
About 800 people work at the plant, which produces railcar undercarriages and related components, said Mike Right, the United Steelworkers union’s health, safety and environment chief.
Seven workers ended up treated and released for smoke inhalation at Gateway Regional Medical Center, while three others flew via helicopter to other Missouri hospitals, Gateway spokeswoman Kate Allaria said.
Two of them were in critical condition at Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur, spokeswoman Bethany Pope said. It wasn’t immediately clear where the other worker was undergoing treatment. Houston said he was aware of only two workers critically injured.
Federal workplace safety officials are investigating the cause of the blast.
Robert Lott, a worker at the plant and president of the United Steelworkers Local 1063, said at least two of those injured may have suffered broken legs and internal injuries. He said he believed the blast was from a gas leak.
“I could see flames, initially, and then the visibility went down to zero from the dust that fell from the rafters,” said Lott, who said he was about 100 yards from where the blast happened.
Right said the union was sending an investigator to the Granite City plant “to make sure we learn the lessons and really understand what happened.”