Series of explosions rock St. Charles chemical plant

Monday, April 13, 2009 | 4:18 p.m. CDT; updated 4:35 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 13, 2009

ST. CHARLES — A worker at a St. Louis-area chemical plant remained hospitalized Monday after an explosion that was felt for several miles.

The explosion at 9:54 p.m. Sunday at the SantoLubes LLC plant in St. Charles caused a fire that badly damaged the plant. The lone worker in the building was hospitalized at St. John's Mercy with burns over at least 30 percent of his body, St. Charles fire officials said. His name was not released, and a hospital spokeswoman declined comment.

A paramedic was treated at a hospital for minor injuries.

The cause of the explosion was under investigation.

The explosion and fire occurred in a building that housed several chemicals used in the production of insecticides.

"They started a mixing process and almost immediately there was an explosion in a reactor vessel," St. Charles Battalion Chief Michael Grzyb said.

The small plant had already sustained significant structural damage and was about 50 percent engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived, Grzyb said. The worker was able to get out on his own.

After learning no one else was in the building, firefighters retreated to a safe area until the burning materials could be identified, authorities said.

The plant sits in a commercial area, but residents who live nearby said the blast shook their homes. Dispatcher Michael Cooper said the explosion was felt five miles away.

A fire department hazardous material team and officials from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources were sent to determine any potential hazards. But the wind direction kept a smoke cloud away from the residential area, avoiding the need for precautionary evacuations.

The SantoLubes Web site says the plant provides fluids, lubricants and greases for a variety of "difficult applications," including those "where extreme high temperature, chemical inertness, radiation resistance and difficult lubrication problems are encountered." The company serves aerospace, electronics, aviation, automotive, power and industrial sectors, the Web site says.

A woman answering the phone at SantoLubes said no one was available to comment, and there was no reply to an e-mail seeking comment from the company.

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