Washington man dies after falling into chemical holding tank

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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A 57-year-old Washington man died Sunday morning in Portland after falling into a chemical holding tank on a barge, fire and rescue officials said.

The victim, identified as John Michael Summers of Pe Ell, Wash., fell into the 20-foot-deep tank around 10 a.m. Minutes later, Portland Fire and Rescue's Hazmat Team and Technical Rescue Team responded to the barge at 5949 N. Basin Ave. Station 24.

Emergency responders drained the liquid from the tank into a second tank before recovering the victim's body around 1 p.m. The tank contained about 12 feet of liquid Lignin Amine, a toxic and corrosive material used in agriculture, authorities said.

The tank's oxygen level -- less than 1 percent -- would cause a person to pass out within one minute and die shortly thereafter. For this reason, authorities said they determined shortly after arrival at the scene that they were on a body recovery mission, not a rescue.

Responders, with aid from another worker on the barge, drained the chemical holding tank in about an hour. Once in the tank, it took responders around 44 minutes to recover the victim's body, authorities said.

No hazardous liquid escaped the barge nor did any civilians or firefighters suffer injuries during the incident, authorities said.