The May 3 explosion at AB Specialty Silicones of Waukegan, IL, that left four workers dead is nearing completion, and there is no definitive cause for the blast that also destroyed the plant, Waukegan fire officials said.
The cause may never be known, said Waukegan Fire Marshal Steve Lenzi.
“From a municipal standpoint, we’re ruling out intentional causes,” Lenzi said, who added investigators have determined the point of origin of the explosion in the plant. Lenzi said local investigators have been unable to pinpoint an exact cause.
Killed in the explosion were workers Byron Biehn, Jeff Cummings, Allen Stevens and Daniel Nicklas, officials said.
In addition to the Waukegan Fire Department, other agencies, including the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, as well as private investigators working for private insurance companies involved in the legal aftermath of the explosion, have been part of the investigation.
Lenzi said while Waukegan investigators have found no conclusive cause for the explosion, it is always possible one of the agencies, which have conducted various tests at the site, may come up with something new. Insurance investigators also may make findings, he said.
Lenzi said the groups are required to share information and findings with each other, increasing the chances that something could break with the cause.
“But unless something changes in the next week or so, our investigation will be very inconclusive,” Lenzi said.
Due to the number of parties involved, it is unknown when the overall investigation will be concluded, but it will likely not be soon, Lenzi said.
“But our (part of the) investigation is all but completed,” he said.
The explosion hit at 9:30 p.m. May 3. In addition to the loss of life, the plant was a total loss and city officials estimated about $1 million in collateral damage occurred in the area near the blast.
The future of the business locally remains unclear. Although AB General Manager Mac Penman vowed to rebuild shortly after the blast, the company is the focus of several lawsuits, from personal injury to public sector.
Last month, Lake County and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office announced the filing of a lawsuit against AB Specialty Silicones of Waukegan seeking a cleanup and civil penalties after the explosion released chemicals into the environment.
In the same announcement, Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said his office plans to “work diligently with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to seek remediation of any environmental impacts as a result of the explosion.”
Company officials responded to the suit saying they were “surprised and disappointed” by the state and county action because they have been cooperating with the cleanup effort.
The complaint, filed in Lake County Circuit Court, alleges the fire and explosion at the company, which manufactures silicon derivative products, resulted in an unknown amount of chemicals released into the air, causing air pollution.
In addition, according to a summary of the complaint, chemicals and water used to fight the fire were allowed to seep into the storm sewers contaminating a wetland and Osprey Lake about a mile away.
“We have fully cooperated with the Emergency On Scene Coordinator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency and have moved quickly and effectively to follow all of the EPA’s recommended measures to protect human health, public safety and the environment,” the AB Specialty statement on the lawsuit said. “We will continue to do so regardless of the status of the complaint from the Attorney General’s Office.”