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Molten metal that injured foundry workers “more harmful than fire”

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SAUKVILLE (WITI) -- Eight people were injured in what workers believed was an explosion and subsequent fire at the Johnson Brass foundry in Saukville on Monday, May 19th -- but now, we've learned police no longer believe there was an actual explosion. Instead, they say there was a catastrophic failure of a piece of machinery which caused molten metal to be thrown around the foundry area. Four of those injured were taken to Columbia St. Mary's, where they are in the burn unit. The burn unit's director says the molten metal that injured them is more harmful than fire.

Tom Roberts is a metallurgy instructor at MATC.

On Tuesday, May 20th -- one day after the incident at Johnson Brass, Roberts demonstrated to FOX6 News a machine that tests the durability of various metallic items.

The MATC instructor used to work in a foundry and knows just how hot molten metals can be.

"Brass at 2,000 degrees-plus Fahrenheit, and it's a heavy metal. If it flies off and hits you, bad things happen," Roberts said.

State and federal investigators are in Saukville following the incident at Johnson Brass.

Officials in Saukville say a catastrophic equipment failure caused molten metal to splatter.

"They do centrifugal casting, so if you're spinning metal, it's like having a blender and you turn it on high, and if the lid comes off, metal could fly out," Roberts said.

"Molten metal is, when it contacts a patient's skin, it can transfer a lot of heat, even more heat than a flame would," Dr. Nicholas Meyer -- the director of Columbia St. Mary's burn center said.

"There's a lot of wound care. The patients are usually sick. There's a lot of pain management, a lot of...just a lot things to deal with: sedation, medication, supportive care," Dr. Meyer said.

As the patients work to recover, Roberts says he'll be following the investigation closely.

"You don't want to hear about these accidents. I teach safety but I don't like having bad stories that I can tell about -- but I have too many bad stories that just happen in the news anywhere, and this is another one of them," Roberts said.

Dr. Meyer says about 25 percent of the patients they see were hurt in industrial accidents.

The hospital didn't have an update on the patients' condition.

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.