Sgt. Alan Shaddix, a spokesman for the Pell City Police Department, said the explosion was reported at about 9 a.m. at Trans-Cycle Industries of Alabama, 101 Parkway East, Pell City Industrial Park.
Shaddix said a worker was removing bolts, which held the top of a large transformer in place, when the explosion occurred.
“Apparently some type of explosive gas built up inside the transformer,” Shaddix said.
He said it appeared a spark from the worker’s plasma cutter ignited the gas, blowing the top off the transformer and hurling the employee off the top of the huge piece of equipment.
Fire Department Interim Chief Jim Parsons said the explosion threw the TCI worker about 20 feet.
“He was very lucky,” Parsons said. “It was one of those great big transformers.”
Shaddix identified the victim as Greg Smith, 39, of Birmingham.
He said Smith, who appeared to have only suffered a broken right leg, was transported by ambulance to University Hospital in Birmingham.
TCI specializes in cleaning and recycling equipment and materials contaminated by PCB heat resistant fluids. PCBs were once commonly used in electrical transformers.
Alabama Department of Public Health officials say PCB is a compound developed because of its fire and electrical resistance properties. The chemical was used in electrical transformers as insulation and in some pressure-treated woods.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the manufacture of PCBs in 1979.
PCBs are listed by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen. This listing is used for chemicals that have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals but have not been shown to cause cancer in humans.
Health officials say PCBs have also been associated with a skin disorder known as chloracne, as well as changes in cholesterol and triglyceride levels in human blood.
Shaddix said the oil inside the large transformer was already removed before Friday morning’s explosion.
“There were no hazmat problems,” Parsons added.
Doug Church, plant operation manager for TCI of Alabama, said PCBs had nothing to do with the accident.
“No PCBs were involved in this at all,” he said.
Church said it is not certain at this time what caused the explosion.
“It would be inappropriate for me to comment right now,” he said.
Church said next week a safety team will investigate the explosion.
He said the company’s attention right now is on the employee who was injured in the blast.
“He’s doing well,” Church said.
TCI has been in operation in Pell City for more than 17 years without any serious work-related accidents, until Friday.