When it comes to facilities handling molten steel and similar substances, firefighters must understand the implications of adding water during any fire suppression activities.
While the event described here was not directly related to an emergency response, this is an excellent example of what can result when water comes in contact with a high-temperature, high-density substance — which in turn, flash boils the water into a massive steam cloud. The expansion of the water into steam rapidly fills an area and can cause an explosion if contained within a compartment.
This is also why you will almost never see automatic sprinkler systems or other water-based suppression installed in facilities handling molten steel.
If you have facilities of this type in your area, be sure you are familiar with their emergency response plan and coordinate any response with their in-house safety personnel.
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ATI steam explosion in Harrison rocked homes in four counties
No one was injured in an explosion Tuesday night near ATI Flat Rolled Products in Harrison that rattled homes miles away.
The explosion, along Karns Road just after 11 p.m., was caused by molten scrap metal hitting water at a work area outside of ATI’s plant, commonly known as ATI-Allegheny Ludlum, according to Harrison police and Dan Greenfield, an ATI spokesman.
The explosion was heard and felt widely.
“My house shook,” said Sande Shotts of Vandergrift, who is roughly 8 miles as the crow flies from the explosion.
ATI is investigating the explosion and damages, if any, according to Greenfield.
The explosion occurred at a work site along Karns Road where an ATI contractor was cleaning a slag pot that came out of the melt shop where the company melts scrap metal.
“Some of the molten metal came in contact with water and that caused the explosion,” Greenfield said.
Even a relatively small amount of molten steel hitting water will produce a lot of steam fast, according to Charles Jones, a lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Geology and Planetary Science.
Given the melting point of stainless steel is from 2,600 to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit, Jones said, that mixed with water, “it will produce a rapid increase in the volume of steam and produce an explosion.”
Brian Balta, a visiting professor at Pitt’s Department of Geology and Planetary Science, added: “Given that the metal was torn during the explosion, that would have made the explosion intensely felt.”
Greenfield said that the specifics of the explosion are under investigation.
“We want to make sure that what happened never occurs again,” he said.