Chesterton Tribune



McDonald's sewer lift station explodes, investigation underway

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A powerful explosion ripped through the small shed housing the McDonald’s lift station on Indian Boundary Road early this morning.

No one was injured--the detonation occurred around midnight and traffic was light at the time--but most of the 10’ x 10’ x 8’ structure landed in the middle of Indian Boundary Road and the concussive force was strong enough to damage the freestanding McDonald’s sign many feet above the ground.

The McDonald’s lift station services just about every business along Indian Boundary Road west of Ind. 49, pumping wastewater uphill to the treatment plant on League Lane in Porter.

Remarkably, the lift station itself remains in operation, dented and dinged and exposed to the elements, but still in operation. “The lift station is actually working,” Town Engineer Mark O’Dell told the Chesterton Tribune. “It’s unbelievable. The lift station is actually working. The control panel is operational and we’re using a backup generator to power it. The explosion instantaneously burned itself out, just used up all its oxygen.”

The investigation of the cause of the explosion was yet in its early stages today but both O’Dell and Fire Chief John Jarka believe that gasoline somehow introduced into the sanitary sewer system may be to blame.

A strong odor of gasoline was initially noticeable at the lift station, O’Dell noted. But it was also found to be present at other points in the line as the collection crew began popping manhole covers up and down Indian Boundary Road. Firefighters, meanwhile, were detecting varying levels of a flammable substance presumed to be gasoline.

That gasoline, riding atop the flow of wastewater, could have gathered in the lift station, O’Dell said, its vapors combining with methane--a natural byproduct of sewage--and then been detonated by a tiny spark thrown by the station’s control panel.

Samples have been taken and will be tested at the Utility’s lab to confirm that the substance is gasoline.

Where and how the gasoline may have entered the sanitary system is anybody’s guess at the moment. O’Dell believes that only one thing is certain, or relatively so: the substance appears to be originating on the north side of Indian Boundary Road.

The Utility was venting the system today and using its Vactor truck to flush the lines and “move the gasoline along,” O’Dell said.

The McDonald’s was closed this morning. No other businesses were and no evacuations were ordered.

Jarka, for his part, was in contact with the Porter County Environmental Department and it was his understanding that the latter would notify the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.


Posted 6/25/2014