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Explosion Injures 2 Workers at Dump

October 04, 2002|SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Making an already dicey environmental cleanup even worse, a canister once used as part of a fighter jet's ejection seat blew up this week at a notorious hazardous waste storage facility in Rialto, injuring two contract workers, officials said Thursday.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators descended Thursday on the 20-acre compound in the San Bernardino County community. The site, once operated by Denova Environmental Inc., had such a poor maintenance record that waste there once spontaneously caught fire.

On Tuesday afternoon, workers were preparing to detonate a canister of chemicals and compounds that was designed to fuel an ejection on a fighter jet. Without warning, the canister exploded, said Mark Merchant, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman.

Injuries from the explosion sent two men to nearby Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Merchant said. Both men work for EPA contractors that are attempting to clean up the property.

One worker, from the Denver-based engineering and construction management firm CH2M Hill, was burned on his right forearm. Company spokeswoman Patty Keck declined to release his identity, but said he has been released from the hospital and is "doing really well."

The second man, also not identified, works for Long Beach-based Earth Tech, a water management, transportation, engineering and environmental services firm. He was burned over 50% of his body and remained hospitalized Thursday, the EPA's Merchant said.

Along with the OSHA workers, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have launched an investigation, Merchant said.

Officials had hoped to finish cleaning up the site by Oct. 15, but their efforts have been put on hold because of the probe.

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