Strong steam explosion on UW campus caused by faulty pressure monitoring device | Science & Environment

ByLance T. Lee

Jun 30, 2022

An unusually strong expulsion of steam at a heating and cooling plant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Wednesday morning was caused by a faulty pressure monitoring device.

The explosion, which drew attention throughout the Near West Side neighborhood, occurred as facility personnel conducted a security check at the plant. The device malfunctioned after staff attempted to extinguish steam in the area near Charter and Spring Street.

UW-Madison has a centrally generated steam system that distributes throughout the campus. When maintenance is performed on the steam system, facility planning and management employees use isolation valves to shut off steam to different segments of the overall system.

Staff were testing an isolation valve and monitoring the stability of the steam system when a pressure monitoring device failed to operate as expected, spokeswoman Lori Wilson said.

When personnel attempted to shut off the steam, the pressure monitoring device failed and the system’s emergency pressure release activated. This release caused the loud steam explosion that the passerby noticed, Wilson said.

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Boiler room personnel intervened and returned the system to operating pressure.

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