Cicero man dies in Wheeling chemical tank

A member of a cleaning crew died Thursday after falling into a vertical storage tank that contained a chemical solvent, Wheeling authorities said.

The accident occurred at the Sunnyside Corp., 225 Carpenter Road in Wheeling.

Bernardo Martinez, 37, of Cicero, was pronounced dead at the scene, officials from the Cook County Medical Examiners Office said Friday morning.

He was part of a crew hired to clean the tank, Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac said.

A second member of the cleaning crew, who remained on the outside of the tank, felt faint and was taken to Glenbrook Hospital, but he was expected to recover fully, MacIsaac said.

The men worked for Phoenix Industrial Cleaning in Bellwood.

Martinez was taken from the scene to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Fire officials have turned the investigation of the death over to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, MacIsaac said.

Emergency crews were called to Sunnyside about 11:15 a.m. Thursday. MacIsaac said that when firefighters arrived, the man was at the bottom of the tank, lying face down in “chemical sludge.”

He identified the chemical as methylene chloride, which is used in consumer products like paint thinners.

The tank stands between 40 and 50 feet high, MacIsaac said. The only way in is through an opening on top that's about 28 inches wide.

The inside of the tank contained little oxygen and a high level of chemical vapors.

Firefighters quickly determined that the man had died, so they focused on safely removing him from the tank.

Personnel from roughly 15 area fire departments assisted with the effort, including personnel specifically trained to work in confined spaces and with hazardous materials.

MacIsaac said the man who died wasn't wearing certain types of protective gear that would normally be used when working in a chemical storage tank, but he couldn't say why.

“That's something that's being investigated,” he said.

Sunnyside Corp. makes paint thinner, cleaners and other chemical solvents and removers, according to its website. Representatives from the company were not available for comment Thursday afternoon.

Ÿ ABC 7 Chicago contributed to this report.

  Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac talks to the media as rescue workers attempt to remove the body of a man who died in a chemical tank at a business in Wheeling. Bob Chwedyk/
  Rescue workers attempt to remove the body of a man who died in a chemical tank at a business in Wheeling. Bob Chwedyk/
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