Two dead in accident at Beaver zinc plant

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An industrial accident at the Horsehead Corp. zinc plant in Beaver County Thursday afternoon claimed the lives of two men and injured at least two other workers.

Neither the company nor the Beaver County coroner's office would release the names of the two men who died. The coroner's office said results from autopsies would be released today.

The workers were killed in the plant's zinc oxide refinery, a part of the plant where molten zinc is turned into zinc oxide. The incident occurred in the zinc distillation columns, three-story-high smokestack-like structures constructed of brick.

One worker who would not give his name reported hearing a large boom followed by what sounded like several small explosions.

But company spokesman Ali Alavi refused to characterize the incident as an explosion, saying the company was still in the fact-finding mode.

Wesley Hill, director of Beaver County Emergency Services, said two of the workers suffered minor injuries.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 4:39 p.m. for a report of a large smoke release and a working structure fire.

Mr. Hill said he arrived on the scene at around 5 p.m. and found it bustling with frantic plant workers and emergency personnel.

"It was very, very busy ... trying to account for everybody, trying to secure the structure," he said.

Tina Smith said she could see the smoke from a Kohl's store in Monaca. She rushed over anxious because several friends work at the plant. Her brother, Vito Vigna, works in the plant's refinery where the accident occurred, but he was not working on Thursday.

Ms. Smith, of Monaca, said she saw a lot of smoke billowing out from one corner of the plant, which is obscured by pine trees.

She brought a small wooden cross, adorned with an artificial purple flower and an electric vigil candle and left it at the plant's entrance.

She said the plant draws many of its 600 workers from Monaca and other parts of Beaver County.

"If you live in Monaca, you're pretty much working here because that's all there is," she said.

She and other workers said that work can be dirty and dangerous and that the hours are long. Ms. Smith said she knows one man who lost a hand in an accident there.

"I don't know what they do in there," she said. "I just know it's dangerous."

Mr. Alavi said he did not know if there had been any explosions or fatalities in the past.

The plant has been operating since 1930, but has been owned by at least four different companies since then.

Horsehead Corp. has operated the plant since 2003, he said.

The plant, about 28 miles north of Pittsburgh, is the country's largest zinc smelter, producing zinc metal and zinc oxide, according to its website.

Some portions of the plant were shut down Thursday night, but some remained in operation.

According to its website, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued citations with proposed penalties of $186,750 in January 2006 at the facility. The results came after an investigation into why an employee stepped into an "uncovered condenser pit full of molten zinc" and suffered severe burns to his legs, according to the site.

OSHA also issued 27 "serious citations" for alleged violations that included a failure to use an approved safety platform, provide guardrails and protection barriers. The agency issued 14 "other-than-serious" violations for "failing to maintain required records of employee exposures to lead and cadmium."

The Associated Press contributed. Moriah Balingit: or 412-263-2533.


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