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A toxic gas leak at a Tampa wastewater treatment facility led to the death of one employee and the injuries of several others including firefighters, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Employees of Lanzo Lining Services were working to prepare a sewer pipe for new lining at the Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. While working inside the pipe, two workers, including the deceased Jesus Jimenez, 33, became ill due to their exposure to hydrogen sulfide, the toxic gas believed to have been present in the sewer.
According to local CBS affiliate WTSP, seven Lanzo employees were working on the evening of April 11 to improve the sewer pipe. The gas leak occurred while workers were attempting to wash the pipe during a standard cleaning process. Employees needed to properly clean the existing pipe before they were able to begin the process of installing the liner.
"The installation of the liner extends the lifetime of the existing pipeline and protects its structural integrity," local police told the source.
Once it became evident that two employees had become weak and were likely being poisoned by gas while in the pipe, two other workers climbed into the sewer to rescue them, but soon were also overtaken by the toxic fumes.
The remaining Lanzo Lining Services employees who were present on the scene attempted to aid those in the sewer, but were also overwhelmed by the fumes. Emergency services arrived, and while firefighters were able to retrieve those stuck inside the sewer, six firefighters were taken to Tampa General Hospital for treatment to gas exposure as well.
It is unclear if the employees were using gas sensors or gas alarms, however toxic gas detectors can be highly effective in preventing workplace tragedies such as the this.
The Port of Tampa is the biggest fuel distribution site in Florida, and the presence of the wastewater plant has long been a cause for concern for local residents. In the port, there are three anhydrous ammonia terminals, sulfuric acid and chlorine present, and approximately 25 million gallons of petroleum, all of which could be deadly if mishandled or released. This most recent event has unnerved the local population, bringing forth memories of the 1991 chlorine gas leak which sent upwards of 30 people to the hospital, and the train derailment of 2010, which fortunately did not release the deadly anhydrous ammonia it was carrying.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will launch an investigation regarding the incident.
Dangers of hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide is a poisonous, flammable and colorless gas often accompanied by the smell of rotten eggs. There are several other names for hydrogen sulfide including sewer gas, hydrosulfuric acid, stink damp, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The toxic gas enters the body through inhalation and symptoms of exposure include eyes, nose and throat irritation as well as difficulty breathing.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection systems.