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Explosion at UK water treatment works kills four, injures one

04 December 2020

Four people were killed by an explosion at a water treatment plant near Bristol, south west England on December 3. One person was also injured during the incident at the Wessex Water site. Police confirmed that Luke Wheaton, 16, Michael James, 64, Brian Vickery, 63, and Raymond White, 57, died at the scene of the explosion.

Avonmouth sewage works - Image: Derek Harper/
Avonmouth sewage works - Image: Derek Harper/

Brian Vickery and Raymond White were employees of Wessex Water, while Luke Wheaton was an apprentice. Michael James was a contractor working at the Avonmouth site.

Emergency services were called to the site in Avonmouth, Bristol at around 11:20 local time after locals reported hearing a large explosion that shook nearby buildings. Police urged local people to avoid the area while local businesses located near to the water plant were closed for the day. A helicopter and search dogs were brought in to help search for casualties and missing people following the blast.

The blast is reported to have occurred in a silo containing treated biosolids which are intended for use as fertiliser. Avon Fire and Rescue Service said that there was no report of a fire being caused by the blast.

Ch Insp Mark Runacres, from Avon and Somerset Police, told reporters that the impacted silo contains treated biosolids before it is recycled as organic soil conditioner. Treated biosolids is the product of treated sewage sludge when it is made safe for use on land.

Local police declared a major incident and began an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the explosion. The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has also started an investigation with the cooperation of Wessex Water.  

In a statement, Wessex Water Chief Executive Colin Skellett said: “We are absolutely devastated that the tragic incident at our site earlier today has resulted in four fatalities. Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of those involved. We are working with the Health and Safety Executive to understand what happened and why.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also expressed his sympathies and tweeted: “Deeply saddened to learn that four people have lost their lives in the water works explosion in Avonmouth. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. Thank you to the emergency services who attended the scene.”

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