The tremendous Chicago plant explosion that occurred Friday night was so violent that those nearby thought it was an earthquake. The petrochemical plant explosion stemmed from a fire that erupted after a storm caused a power outage at the plant, CBS News reported on Dec. 13. "Without power, cooling and circulation systems in the phenol unit failed, causing the temperature and pressure inside the phenol unit’s oxidizers to rise, starting a chemical fire," the report explained.
The site of the Chicago plant explosion was at the Blue Island Phenol, 3350 W. 131st St, which is located in Alsip, a small town in Cook County.
Although two workers were wounded in the Chicago plant explosion, they did not suffer life-threatening injuries. The two men were taken to a local hospital to receive treatment for burns and latest reports list them as being in stable condition.
The Chicago plant explosion prompted an enormous response from firefighters and police and a hazmat team was also dispatched to scene. Flames from the explosion erupted around noon and the fire was extinguished around 2:20 p.m., officials said.
The explosion caused extensive damage to one building and another was destroyed and about five nearby businesses were evacuated.
Regarding the Chicago plant explosion, Alsip Fire Chief Tom Styczynski told the Southtown Star that the three chemicals used at the plant — propylene, propane and benzene — all are “very flammable, all are very volatile at the same time.”
He described the inside of the plant as being similar to what a refinery looks like, with pressurized piping and cylinders and flammable liquids.
“We had a good amount of smoke and a little bit of fire from inside the plant,” he said.
Alsip Mayor Patrick Kitching’s executive assistant, Sue Bruesch, revealed that firefighters at the scene of the plant explosion needed assistance from other agencies because they reportedly ran out of foam that was being used to battle the blaze.
The Chicago plant explosion is currently being investigated by the state fire marshal’s office. Scott Allen, a spokesman for Occupational Safety and Health Administration, stated that the plant had received several violations prior to the explosion.
Seth Poncinie, a Chicago State student who lives three blocks from where the explosion took place, recalled hearing a muffled noise just before noon and then his entire house shook.
“I thought it was an earthquake at first,” Poncinie said.
Bill Moffatt, the plant manager, also said that the plant explosion was very powerful. He said, “I was in the office building and it shook the office building.”
A similar explosion occurred in late Nov. of this year in Wyoming when five of six condensate gas tanks exploded in a gas field at Encana Corp's Antelope 91-29H facility. Although this blast was much stronger than the Chicago plant explosion, no fatalities were reported but several people were seriously injured.