Barren Island, NY Plant Explosion, May 1910


One Man Killed and Five Injured When a Steam Refuse Tank Blows Up.


They Flee in Terror as a Building Is Wrecked and Clouds of Scalding Steam Pour Out.

With a noise of escaping steam which could be heard all over Jamaica Bay and the Canarsie section, one of the big digestors in the pressing house of the New York Sanitary Company's plant on Barren Island exploded shortly after noon yesterday, killing a laborer and injuring severely five more.

Practically all the garbage which the city's Street Cleaning Department collects in Brooklyn every day is separated in this plant into its component parts of marketable oil and dry island filling. One of the buildings was unroofed and $5,000 damage was done by the explosion. All the city's other big disposal works on the island and the island's entire permanent population of 2,000 Polack and Italian refuse workers were thrown into a panic by the sight and noise of the explosion.


ANTONIO CARDITZ, a Russian, he was enveloped in steam, and the flying cast iron door of the tank broke a leg in three places. Died of shock.


WERNIER SERVICE, Russian; head cut and skull possibly fractured by part of the bursting tank.
CYPRIEN CAREWITCH, Russian, two ribs broken.
MATTHEW HUBBARD, negro, severe scalp wounds from being caught under debris of third floor.
JOHN WATERS; scalded.
CARL MOGGS; scalded.

The pressing plant of the Sanitary Company in which the explosion occurred stands in a stockade on the eastern point of the island. Every one who has ever sailed across Jamaica Bay is familiar with the distant sight of its 150 foot high yellow brick chimney. Right beside this plant is that of another company which has the contract for cremating the city's dead animals. But all the rest of the crematories and disposal works on the island are clustered in the midst of several hundred laborers' huts about a mile to the west.

The pressing room in which the explosion occurred is on the third floor of the building to the south of the big smokestack. Into this room all Brooklyn's kitchen waste from the Street Cleaning Department's scows is carried on four-wheeled trucks which ascend in a spiral. In the pressing room are a dozen cast iron digesters about ten feet high and four feet in diameter.

There are doors in the tops of each of these digestors, through which the waste is dropped from the moving trucks into the tanks. When the tanks are filled the doors are closed and locked, a cock is turned at the bottom of the tank, and a heavy pressure of steam---100 pounds to the square inch---is forced into the tanks. Thus all the vegetable oil is pressed out of the waste, nothing but the dry, vegetable fibre, useful only for filling in Barren Island's water front, being left.

Carditz, the man who was killed, together with Service and Carewitch, had just emptied the last truckful of waist[sic] into one of these digestors when the explosion happened. They had locked the door, and the steam was being forced into the tank.

The pressure register of the tank, it was said later, had been saved, and shows that the force of steam which was being sent into the tank when it exploded was only about sixty-five pounds to the square inch.

As the tank blew up the top of it tore a ten-foot hole in the sloping metal roof of the building. A cloud of steam rose with a deafening report fifty feet over Jamaica Bay. The three laborers torn and bruised by jagged strips of cast iron were thrown twenty feet off the platform on which they stood into different corners of the pressing room. The floor of the pressing room itself gave way and crashed down on the heads of the laborers on the floor below, cutting their heads and covering them with parboiled waste.

Supt. Morrison and Blaunt had just left for the day on the company's launch and had reached Canarsie when the accident happened. The 400 Polaks and Italians deafened by the noise, and many of them temporarily blinded and scalded by the escaping steam, went wild. Occupants of boats in Canarsie Bay could see them rushing out of the buildings, leaping from the low second and third floor windows, and even sliding down the spiral iron runways on which the waste-laden trucks are suppose to run.

The explosion was so loud that it could be heard for miles over the water. The only person who did not hear it, apparently, was Snyder, the company's licensed engineer, who was busy in the noisy boiler room in the next building. Immediately after the explosion, he noticed that his register showed that a considerable quantity of steam had suddenly been used. Suspecting that something was wrong, he cut off the steam entirely, and, after going out and discovering what had happened, went from boiler to boiler in the plant, taking precautions so that none of them should explode.

On the other side of a vacant lot from the stockaded works is a small yellow hut in which two policemen are stationed by the city to keep Barren Island's unruly foreign population in order when the four saloons begin to do their regular nocturnal business. The explosion could be seen from the police hut window, and nearly shook it down.

Policeman Isasc Van Houten and Sergeant Atkinson ran across the lot through the crowd of fleeing laborers. Rushing from floor to floor through the steam-filled presshouse, they found Carditz lying on the second floor beneath a heap of debris. They improvised a tourniquet with handkerchiefs to save him from bleeding to death. While they were carrying Carditz down to the courtyard more debris from the third floor crashed down, cutting a deep gash in Van Houten's leg.

Meantime the few American foremen in the plant had carried the other injured men into the courtyard and telephoned over Jamaica Bay to St. Mary's and the Kings County Hospitals to send ambulances to the ferry landing at Canarsie to meet the injured as soon as they could be taken across the five-mile stretch of bay.

The company's launch had not returned from taking Supts. Morrison and Blaunt to Canarsie. But Lieut. McKeown and Pilot Matthews on Police Boat C., two miles distance saw the clouds of escaping steam and heard the explosion. They put in at the company's dock, got a pair of stretchers out of the cabin, and carried Carditz, Service and Carewitch down to the boat. The cockpit of the little police boat was so small that Carditz had to be laid on the floor, Carewitch had to be stretched crosswise immediately above him, his head resting on one bench and his feet on the opposite one. The boat then started across the bay to Canarsie at a clip of fifteen miles an hour.

Half way across the company's launch with Drs. O'Keefe, O'Brien, and Delany from St. Mary's Hospital and Dr. Flanagan from Kings County Hospital met them. The four ambulance surgeons boarded the police boat, and after a consultation made an effort to rebandage Carditz's leg, which was still bleeding in spite of the policemen's rough tourniquet. Their efforts were vain, Carditz dying shortly after reaching the hospital. According to the hospital authorities, last night, the other two men will probably live.

The gates of the company's stockade were carefully guarded all afternoon, and information as the cause of the accident was refused.

The New York Times, New York, NY 1 May 1910