Tank Maintenance Turns Deadly

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 @ 05:12 PM gHale

A foreman with the Bellwood, IL-based Phoenix Industrial Cleaning company fell to his death into a chemical storage tank at the Sunnyside Corp. in Wheeling, IL, Thursday.

Bernardo Martinez, 37, of Cicero, IL, died when he was cleaning near an opening at the top of a tank before falling into the chemical “slime” at the bottom of the structure, said Wheeling fire chief the fire chief Keith MacIsaac. The fire chief was unsure whether the unknown man fell accidentally or ended up overcome by fumes emitted by the chemical contents of the tank.

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“He meant a lot to our company and was loved and respected,” said Phoenix General Manager Jeff MacNerland. “He was one of our top producers and will be sorely missed.”

The man was part of a two-person cleaning crew contracted by Sunnyside, and a second man was at the scene of the accident when firefighters arrived.

Martinez was found lying face down in methylene chloride, officials said. The liquid chemical goes in industrial operations such as paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, metal cleaning and adhesives manufacturing.

The 6,000 gallon tank, measures 50 feet high by 28 feet wide, officials said.

MacIsaac said it was clear to first responders they would not have to rescue Martinez, who they found at the bottom of the tank. An oxygen meter used to measure conditions in the tank determined the bottom of the structure contained only 12 percent oxygen and the fire chief said the man could not have survived prolonged exposure to those conditions.

“There was not much we could do to save this individual,” MacIsaac said. “So our operation became making sure no one else got injured or killed.”

Hazardous material technicians and highly specialized firefighters trained to work in dangerous conditions then conducted a successful recovery operation to remove Martinez from the bottom of the tank, the fire chief said.

Recovery personnel and the victim had to go through a decontamination process after exiting the tank to remove possibly dangerous, residual chemicals, MacIsaac said.

The fire chief said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will take over the investigation of the death.

Sunnyside makes wood care products, paint removers, thinners and solvents, according to its website.

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