H2S exposure at a sugar refining plant and a fire at a metal hardening plant each led to one worker death 

Western Sugar Cooperative factory in Fort Morgan, Colorado

Source: © Jim West/Alamy Stock Photo

Maintenance workers in the wastewater treatment facility of Wester Sugar’s refining plant were unexpectedly exposed to hydrogen sulfide

One employee at a sugar refining plant in Fort Morgan, US, died from apparent exposure to naturally produced hydrogen sulfide on 29 May. Several others were hospitalised, according to the local sheriff’s office. Firefighters rescued two unconscious workers from a confined space about 3m below ground in the Western Sugar wastewater treatment facility, where they had been conducting maintenance work. Two firemen sustained injuries at the scene and were treated and released from a local hospital, along with the second employee.

‘Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is commonly found in wastewater treatment and sewers,’ Morgan County sheriff, Dave Martin, explained. ‘The gas is produced [by] microbial breakdown of organic materials in the absence of oxygen.’ It is associated with a rotten egg smell.

The sheriff emphasised that the incident was not being classified as a chemical release. ‘The production of H2S gas is a naturally, biologically occurring instance,’ the sheriff’s office stated. ‘The general public is not in danger.’

Nitriding plant fire

A worker died in hospital from burns sustained in the fire following an explosion at a metal treatment plant in Chattanooga, US, on 30 May. The Techniques Surfaces USA plant uses a salt-bath nitriding process to harden the surfaces of steel components. According to the local fire department, there appears to have been a chemical reaction that led to the explosion.

Several employees and one firefighter sustained minor injuries and were treated at the scene. The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has sent a team to investigate the cause of the incident.