Johnson Brass fined back in 2011; What caused Monday’s incident?

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SAUKVILLE (WITI) -- Federal investigators are looking into what caused what workers thought was an explosion -- and subsequent fire at Johnson Brass foundry in Saukville on Monday afternoon, May 19th.

The foundry has been located on Mill Street -- in the middle of a residential neighborhood for more than 100 years.

Also in the area -- an elementary school.

Four Johnson Brass workers are in the burn unit at St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee -- recovering from Monday afternoon's incident that injured eight.

"I looked out and it was all hazy smoke outside," Saukville Elementary School Principal Chad Brakke said.

Brakke had just been through a normal day's dismissal. Some children remained at the school for after-school activities, but on Monday, outside play was off-limits.

"There was smoke coming out of the building. One of the teachers mentioned her monitor, computer monitor shook. Whatever happened there happened over here," Brakke said.

The elementary school is just yards from the Johnson Brass foundry.

Saukville police now say they don't believe there was an actual explosion on Monday.

Instead, police say there was a catastrophic failure of a piece of machinery which caused molten metal to be thrown around the foundry area.

Eight were taken to hospitals.

Mark Edbauer Jr. was one of those injured.

On his Facebook page are messages of encouragement -- with a family member expressing pride that Edbauer Jr. worked to help others.

A local hotel is offering free meals for family members affected by Monday's incident.

The Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says it is interviewing witnesses and inspecting the foundry machinery.

It hopes to have answers soon -- but officials say it could take months.

In 2011, OSHA records show the company was cited for seven violations -- three of them serious violations.

The company was fined at that time.

Johnson Brass issued the following statement to FOX6 News on Tuesday:

"For more than one hundred years my family has taken great pride in our safety record and our close relationship with our employees.

As the fourth president of this family-owned business, I can say we are all deeply saddened by the accident at our plant yesterday.  I am returning tonight from a business trip I cut short in California to meet with the injured workers.

Contrary to earlier press reports, there was no explosion at the plant yesterday.

Instead, a machine malfunctioned spraying liquid metal around the plant floor striking workers in their legs and backs. Eight people were injured. Four of my colleagues remain hospitalized tonight with burns, but we are told none of their injuries are life-threatening.

Several members of my team have already visited them as I hope to do as soon as I return. Johnson Brass is fully cooperating with all local and federal officials investigating the cause of the unfortunate accident.”

According to the Johnson Brass website, the company (also known as Johnson Centrifugal Technology or JCT) has been in operation since 1905. It’s now in its 4th generation of Johnson family ownership and operation.

JCT regularly manufactures metal components both in cast and wrought alloys. Pure copper, cast and wrought aluminum, Monel, nickel silver, chrome copper, copper silver, zirconium copper and stainless steel are all expertly formed through Johnson Centrifugal Technology.

The company is able to produce shapes and sizes that are unheard of in the industry, such as balls, stators, seals, valve bodies, gears, large flanged bushings, vacuum chamber liners and medical imaging mainframes.