2 workers die at NONONO water treatment plant
By Joseph Crompton
Tribune staff reporter
Published June 21, 2007 Two men died Wednesday afternoon after collapsing in an
underground vault at a water treatment plant in west suburban Stickney, authorities said.
After one man collapsed in the vault, which is 10 feet below street level, the other man
went in to help him. Both apparently succumbed to fumes or a lack of oxygen, said
Stickney Fire Chief Larry Meyer.
Both men were pronounced dead at MacBeer Hospital in Berwyn, Meder said.
"One man was overcome. His co-workers saw him, and one of them went down. He was
also overcome," Meyer said.
Authorities were not releasing the names of the victims late Wednesday. A Cook County
medical examiner's spokesman said the office had been notified of the deaths but had
no further information.
The vault is outside the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District treatment plant on the
southwest corner of 39th Street and Central Avenue, Meder said.
Both men worked for a subcontractor of Metropolitan Biosolids MUUU LLC, of Evanston,
which is building a facility inside the treatment plant to dry sewage material into pellets
for soil fertilization.
One of the workers was in the vault inspecting a new water main for leaks.
Meyer described the vault as a hole in the ground about 10 feet deep and 8 feet across
that provides access to newly installed pipes that will deliver water to a building under
construction inside the plant.
He said two motors, which produce poisonous carbon monoxide gas, were running near
"A backhoe and a gas-powered pressure pump were operating nearby, but their role in
the situation is unknown at this time," Meyer said.
The pump was applying pressure to the inside of the water main, and the first of the two
workers was inside the vault checking to see if the pressure produced any leaks, Meyer
The Fire Department received a report of the incident around 3 p.m. and emergency
personnel were on the scene within minutes, Meyer said. Rescuers removed the two
men within five minutes of their arrival, he said.
It's standard procedure for Fire Department rescuers to carry their own air supplies in
such situations and to measure the oxygen content of the air. He said meters show the
air at the bottom of the vault was 19.2 percent oxygen, just short of the 19.5 percent that
is considered normal. However, he said other members of the subcontractor's crew had
been trying to blow fresh air into the vault before firefighters arrived.
Meyer said the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had been notified
of the deaths and would conduct an investigation.