ArcelorMittal and union officials are investigating what led to an "explosion" on the east side of the Indiana Harbor integrated steelmaking complex Thursday morning.
Three employees were injured in the No. 4 Steel Producing area when rain water runoff entered an iron ladle causing a reaction, a company spokeswoman confirmed. The incident happened about 8:30 a.m., said Tom Hargrove, president of United Steelworkers Local 1010.
The ladle, which is similar to a brick-lined tub, contained molten iron and was sitting outside to have the molten iron emptied into the basic oxygen furnace to make steel. Hargrove said water ran from a building roof from the heavy rains early Thursday to cause what was likely a steam explosion. He said the incident was the first of its type he was aware of at the facility.
All three employees – two were taken to St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and one was taken to the plant's on-site clinic – have been released from health care facilitie and did not suffer serious injuries, Hargrove and the company said. The employees were USW Local 1010 members.
"Making steel is a dangerous business and we gotta take all the precautions we can" to make sure there are no injuries, Hargrove said. "There's nothing more important than someone's life."
Hargrove said other facilities within the ArcelorMittal system would be alerted of Thursday's incident and the investigation will attempt to determine how to prevent it from happening again.
The company expected normal operations to resume before today.
Many hot metal cars are sent on outdoor rail lines between the blast furnace, where molten iron is made, and the basic oxygen furnace each day in all types of weather conditions. Water coming in contact with the ladle usually is evaporated because of the extreme heat of the molten iron, Hargrove said.
On plant grounds, the ladles aren't usually covered, although when hot metal is sent to ArcelorMittal's Riverdale facility by rail, the ladles are covered per federal regulations, he said.
The accident at ArcelorMittal comes after a Wednesday incident at United States Steel Corp.'s Gary Works complex when an employee operating a transfer car was injured when when a transfer car he was operating left the track.