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2 Killed, 4 Hurt At TECO Power Plant Accident

A 30-year veteran of TECO and a Tampa contractor were killed in an accident Thursday at the Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach. 


The explosion happened when the workers were trying to unclog a blockage in a tank where molten coal slag falls into cooling tanks after being burned to generate electricity.

Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs says there were no witnesses, other than the workers who were injured.

"This is a very complex investigation, and we are going to look at the root cause of what happened here, to make sure not only does it not happen here, but to make sure that the whole industry can benefit from whatever knowledge we gain," she said.

Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on the scene Friday morning.


One man killed was nearing his 30-year anniversary at Tampa Electric. The Riverview man's wife asked that his name not be released.

"This employee who we lost yesterday - he's worked at Tampa Electric for three decades," said Jacobs. "He's a key team member there. He was well-liked and well-represented by his colleagues. The Tampa Electric family is in mourning today, and our hearts and prayers go out to the folks who were affected by this."

A contractor working on the tank, Christopher Irvin, 40, of Tampa, was also killed. Four other contractors, from Tampa and Wimauma, are in intensive care at Tampa General Hospital, with injuries being decribed as life-threatening.

They are Gary Marine Jr., 32, of Tampa; Antonio Navarrete, 21, of Wimauma; Frank Lee Jones, 55, of Tampa; and Armando J. Perez, 56, of Wimauma.

The unit was shut down Thursday afternoon, though two other units continued to run.

Hot slag is a molten byproduct created when coal is burned for electricity. Chunks of it fall into cooling tanks and the remnants, which are black and glasslike, are recycled and used in sand blasting and roofing.

Twenty years ago almost to the day, four TECO workers were seriously injured during routine maintenance of a slag tank at a plant in Port Sutton.

Smoke from its towering stacks can be seen from around Tampa Bay. The plant primarily burns coal. However, it has in recent years added natural gas- and oil-fired capabilities.

The plant also is a popular tourism destination for its manatee viewing center.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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