12 injured in a water pipe construction project at the U

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Seven construction workers remain in the hospital Monday night following a sudden release of steam on the University of Utah Campus. Three of those men are in critical condition, some with possible lung injuries from breathing steam hotter than 300 degrees.

Within the last hour, authorities have substantially revised their explanation of what happened. It appears that super-heated water or steam flowed into a pipe that was supposed to be empty. Below ground level, utility lines were being replaced and something went wrong. At at 300 S. 1850 East around 11 a.m., a huge cloud of steam erupted.

The project is part of a major overhaul of underground utilities. The men were replacing a pipe that ordinarily carries super-heated water through a vault that's part of the utility tunnel system.

Earlier in the day, Salt Lake Fire Capt. Michael Harp said, "They were working below grade in a vault. There was failure of a high pressure water line, high temperature, resulting in steam that basically went through the vault. I was told that it was about 380 degrees, the water."

The construction workers were engulfed in hot steam. Some apparently burned their lungs by breathing it. Emergency responders took 12 workers to hospitals. Seven are still hospitalized, including three in critical condition.

As investigators have obtained more information, they've changed the scenario. Now they say the men were working on an open-ended pipe, an empty pipe. Because of human error or mechanical failure, the pipe was activated and suddenly filled with super-heated water from the University heating plant.

University of Utah spokesman Remi Barron said, "The plant is high-tech. It heats the water and generates electricity at the same time. The pipes are older, so it's a long-term project to replace the pipes."

The injured workers are employed by subcontractors working under Layton Construction, the general contractor.

The accident is now under investigation by OSHA.


Story compiled with contributions from John Hollenhorst and Marc Giauque.

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