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Four workers at an Auburn metal plating company died...

AUBURN, Ind. -- Four workers at an Auburn metal plating company died Tuesday and 20 other people were injured when two chemicals were accidentally mixed, producing deadly hydrogen cyanide gas, officials said.

'They were cleaning out a tank of zinc cyanide. Whoever did the cleaning put in the wrong cleaning solution -- muriatic acid,' said Betty Cadou, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Management. The combination of the two produces hydrogen cyanide, a powerful poisonous vapor.'

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Muriatic acid is diluted hydrochloric acid, often used for cleaning porcelain.

The dead, all employees of Bastian Plating Inc., were identified as Baron W. Sweet, 21, of Garrett; Larry D. Hensinger, 29, of Waterloo; William M. Freeze, 29, of Garrett; and Jeffery Link, 25, of Auburn.

Five other Bastian employees were injured, including the most seriously injured, Craig Fogel of Auburn, who was in critical condition at Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne.

Mary Ellen Schimmoller, a spokeswoman for DeKalb Memorial Hospital, said three Auburn police officers and about 12 firefighters were treated at the hospital for cyanide contamination. One of the police officers, Kim Miller, was admitted to the hospital for observation, she said.

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Symptoms of the poisoning included nausea and headaches, said Marilyn Williams, vice president of the hospital.

Indiana State Police officers said one worker was cleaning a 5-foot deep vat in a sub-basement about 5 a.m. when he collapsed and the three other victims tried to rescue him, but were overcome by the fumes. Fogel was trying to rescue his co-workers when another employee pulled him away from the vat, officials said.

DeKalb County coroner Dr. William Hathaway ordered the plant closed Tuesday, pending an investigation. Hathaway released a statement that said there appeared to be 'no evidence of foul play, orcriminal conduct' in the accident.

The company recently was the target of hearings by the Auburn Board of Works, which had scheduled a hearing for Thursday on a 7-month-old case concerning alleged pollution of city sewers with various substances, including cyanide, copper and zinc compounds. There also have been complaints of chlorine fumes in homes near the plant.

The company apparently was trying to remove the polluting chemicals when the incident occurred.

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