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Cause still unclear in Indian Creek tower blast
Emergency personnel try to sort through the event that led to a chemical explosion at the Indian Creek water tower that sent two workers cleaning the tower to the hospital Tuesday morning. (Pantagraph/LORI ANN COOK)

TOWANDA - Both men injured in an explosion inside the Indian Creek water tower late Tuesday morning were released from treatment at a Springfield hospital by Wednesday afternoon.

The cause of the explosion remains under investigation. | Photo gallery

Keith Campbell, 23, of Princeton and Tom Roe, of Dana, were released from Memorial Medical Center in Springfield following treatment for burns suffered in the explosion in the tower just north of Towanda along McLean County Highway 29.

The employees of Putnam County Painting Inc. of Mark, were using acetone, toluene and naphtha inside of the tower, said Towanda Fire Chief Royce Kraft. But company office manager Lori Ceresa said chlorine-containing products stored in the neck of the tank, not chemicals used by her company to prepare the inside walls for painting, were responsible for the men's burns.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration will also try to determine the cause of the blast, Ceresa said.

Indian Creek water operator Frank Cottrell said "everybody's speculating at this point" about the cause of the explosion. He said he is sure the painting company does not want to say their chemicals are responsible for the blast, and insurance companies for Indian Creek and Putnam County Painting are investigating.

Ceresa said subdivision officials had at some point switched the type of chlorine-containing purification chemical, but saved barrels from both products near each other. She said heat from outside the tower created vapors from both barrels, and they exploded when mixed.

The explosion would have happened if the men were not in the tower, she said.

Cottrell said some documents on the chemicals Indian Creek kept in the tower don't match with Ceresa's account of what happened.

"Some of our information indicates the opposite," Cottrell said.

The subdivision's 80 homes began using a portable 10,000-gallon tank as a water supply hours before the explosion, said Cottrell. A boil order issued shortly before the explosion has since been cancelled.

The portable tank, which is parked next to the water tower, was expected to be used for two or three weeks, depending on weather and how quickly the tower was repainted, Cottrell said. The tower wasn't damaged in the explosion, he said.

The painting company's workers were spraying the inside of the tower to detoxify old paint before blasting it off the walls, Ceresa said. Some older water towers contain lead-based paint, and she said the chemicals used by her company decontaminate the paint before it is removed.

Roe was inside the tower at the base, Campbell was about 10 feet from the top of the tower and the foreman was on the ground outside the tower, Ceresa said. The foreman was not injured.

The workers are both at home now, though they are still shaken up, Ceresa said. Her company has been in business 33 years without such an injury, she said.

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