A large explosion hit a large metal tank used to store treated biosolids on Thursday morning, killing four workers. The force of the explosion at a Geneco water recycling center in Avonmouth, near Bristol, was so great that one of the bodies was recovered from a lake 150 meters away.
The four who died were named on Friday night. They were Luke Wheaton, 16, who had recently started an internship at the factory, Michael James, 64, Brian Vickery, 63, and Raymond White, 57. The BBC reported “It looks like Mr. James was a contractor who worked at the site, while Mr. Vickery and Mr. White were employees of Wessex Water … ”A fifth worker suffered life-threatening injuries.
Workers were on the roof of the tank when it exploded, shattering it. An eyewitness told the media, “They didn’t stand a chance.” Others described the explosion as shaking nearby buildings. A warehouse worker said he and his colleagues were trapped while the walls shook. Another said: “I thought a bomb went off. It was scary “.
Within minutes, the police declared a major incident while six firefighters rushed to the scene. Specialized search and rescue teams from distant places like Exeter were deployed, using heat search cameras to search for victims.
Although no cause has yet been identified for the explosion, which will be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Chief Inspector Mark Runacres of the Avon and Somerset Police said there were “no continuing public safety concerns”.
Geneco, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wessex Water, takes “treated sludge” from its adjacent sewage treatment plant, as well as food residues from homes and supermarkets, to convert to biogas, fertilizers and other products. In the process of creating the fertilizer, large quantities of highly explosive methane gas are produced.
O Bristol Live The news site cited comments from Tony Ennis, “an expert in the field of fire and explosion hazards for over 25 years.” He said: “The explosion appears to have occurred in a silo that stores the production of an anaerobic digester.
“The waste is organic, for example, food waste, and is ‘digested’ to create methane gas, which is the main component of natural gas – the gas can be used to generate electricity.”
“It seems likely that there was methane gas in the upper space of the tank.
“Depending on the amount of methane, the pressure developed in the tank can be up to 8 bar. The pressure in a car tire is 2 to 2.5 bar.
“The tank was not designed for this pressure and appears to have failed catastrophically at the junction between the roof and the cylindrical structure.”
Wessex Water is one of 12 UK water and sewage companies, privatized by the conservative Thatcher government in 1989 as part of its massive sale of utilities, including rail, gas, electricity and telecommunications.
The GMB union, from the standard nationalist perspective of union bureaucracy everywhere, complains that since privatization, the main problem has been that the water industry is owned by “foreign” conglomerates, rather than UK corporations. His research found that more than 70 percent of England’s water industry is owned by foreign companies, including those based on tax havens, banks, hedge funds and “sovereign wealth funds” owned by foreign governments.
The nine privatized water companies in England are a dairy cow for their corporate owners of any nationality. In the past five years, shareholders have received £ 6.5 billion in dividends, £ 1.4 billion in 2017 alone.
Company executives, like Wessex Water CEO Colin Skellett, are richly rewarded for extracting every ounce of profit from their workers. In the past five years, CEOs of British water companies have pocketed £ 58 million.
Wessex Water was originally purchased by the American company Enron in 1998 for $ 2.4 billion. After the collapse of Enron, it was purchased in 2002 by YTL Power International, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Under YTL, Wessex Water saw its capital value almost triple from £ 1.3 billion to £ 3.3 billion in 2019.
YTL currently obtains half of its revenue from the United Kingdom and 85% of its revenue from abroad, through companies it has in Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.
Earlier this year, Skellett told Malaysia’s most widely circulated English-language newspaper The star, “We are contributing around £ 75 million a year as dividends to YTL Power of £ 50 million a year when Wessex Water was initially acquired from Enron.”
While shareholders and CEOs in the privatized water industry see their bank balances growing, this is also at the expense of consumers. Since privatization in 1989, water bills have increased 40% above the rate of inflation, according to the National Audit Office. About 2.4 billion liters of water are wasted in England because of the lack of investment in old and decrepit infrastructure.
A report commissioned by ocean conservation organization Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) shows that UK water companies were responsible for 3,000 raw sewage pollution incidents between October 2019 and September 2020. The report highlights 153 incidents of health due to the discharge of raw sewage into recreational coastal waters. This included cases of ear, nose and throat infections, gastroenteritis and more serious long-term health impacts.
The report highlights several serious shortcomings on the part of water companies. The United Kingdom ranks 25th among 30 European countries in terms of poor bathing water quality. Southern Water, whose region of operation accounted for a fifth of all reports of health problems related to water, did not issue a “sewage spill notification” for most of 2020.
Water companies in England dumped raw sewage into rivers on more than 200,000 occasions last year, according to information obtained by the Guardian .
The Environmental Agency (EA), charged with maintaining water cleanliness standards, has drastically reduced its activities aimed at protecting public health, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to reducing the number of water quality tests it carries out, EA has reduced investigations into water pollution incidents. In the five months from April to August, 292 calls were made, compared to 1,726 in the same period last year.
Citing data obtained through a Freedom of Information request, the Guardian reports that, despite this 87% decline in AE visits, the number of reported pollution incidents remains high. The agency received 9,144 incident reports during the same period, compared to 9,424 in 2019.
According to data from the Environmental Agency, only 14 percent of UK waterways are currently in good ecological health.
Although the tragic incident at Geneco, which claimed the lives of four workers, is generally referred to in the media as an “industrial accident”, there is nothing accidental about the risks that workers face each day in the performance of their jobs. The drive to increase profits and shareholder value inevitably leads to cost cutting when it comes to health and safety.
The Avonmouth explosion is the second serious incident in the area in a matter of weeks. In October, about 20,000 tonnes of scrap exploded in a fire at Avonmouth docks, near Geneco’s factory.
In November, 100 firefighters participated in a “big fire” at a tire storage facility in Bradford, West Yorkshire. A spokesman for the local council said the incident would have “far-reaching effects on residents, travelers, businesses and schools”.
In September, a fire in an industrial building in Kent caused 200 people to be evacuated.
A major fire in August at a Newhaven plant required 12 teams of firefighters to control it.
At Tilbury Docks in Essex in July, the roof of a building collapsed after an explosion. One person had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
An explosion in June at an industrial plant in Erith, near London, burned three people and required hospital treatment.