INDUSTRY INSIDER | April 11, 2024

Elon Musk’s Las Vegas Tunnel Has Workers Wading Through Toxic Mud

Original Source:Quartz

Elon Musk’s tunnels below the Las Vegas strip are not exactly going as planned. Since his Boring company first appeared about seven years ago, plans have been scaled back, promises have been broken and safety violations have piled up.

Bloomberg Businessweek decided to take a deep dive into just what is going on inside Musk’s Boring company, and the results are about as ugly as the narrow tunnels themselves. Right now, workers are building a tunnel between two hotels, the Encore Las Vegas and the Westgate, that’ll connect them with the Las Vegas Convention Center. As it turns out, the working conditions are pretty dismal. Here’s what Bloomberg Businessweek found:

The muck pooling in the tunnel at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip had the consistency of a milkshake and, in some places, sat at least two feet deep. The tunnel-to-be, which would eventually stretch about half a mile, was part of a system intended to connect two hotels, the Encore Las Vegas and the Westgate, with the enormous Las Vegas Convention Center. Workers doing the digging later said they had to wade through the mud every day. It splashed up over their boots, hit their arms and faces and soaked through their clothes. At first, it merely felt damp. But in addition to the water, sand and silt—the natural byproducts of any dig—the workers understood that it was full of chemicals known as accelerants.

The accelerants cure the grout that seals the tunnel’s concrete supports, helping the grout set properly and protecting the work against cracks and other deterioration. They also seriously burn exposed human skin. At the Encore dig site, such burns became almost routine, workers there told Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An investigation by the state OSHA, which Bloomberg Businessweek has obtained via a freedom of information request, describes workers being scarred permanently on their arms and legs. According to the investigation, at least one employee took a direct hit to the face. In an interview with Businessweek, one of the tunnel workers recalls the feeling of exposure to the chemicals: “You’d be like, ‘Why am I on fire?’”

Like others interviewed for this story, the tunnel worker spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the billionaire who operates it: Elon Musk.

Sure, the Encore and Westage tunnels are just extensions that’ll eventually (in theory) be a part of a widened tunnel system to most of the Strip and downtown Vegas, but progress has been brutally slow, according to Bloomberg. In fact, it’s been so slow that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman — who is claustrophobic and has never ridden in the Loop — doesn’t think the project will ever be finished.

“It’s impractical,” she told Bloomberg. “I pray that it works, but I see these stumbling blocks.” Those stumbling blocks include a pretty rough safety record so far.

Although no one has been killed at a Boring Company worksite in Las Vegas, the OSHA report shows some very close calls. Last summer, according to employees interviewed by the investigators, an intern was nearly crushed when a bin made out of two-ton concrete blocks collapsed. It had been overloaded with muck, the employees said, and the metal brackets holding it together gave way, sending the intern running. (The intern didn’t respond to inquiries for this story.) Altogether, OSHA found eight violations it categorized as “serious” and fined the Boring Company a total of $112,504 last fall.

The company, which didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Businessweek, is contesting the findings. “Nevada OSHA has failed to establish that the alleged violations occurred,” Boring’s outside counsel wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to the agency, which Businessweek also obtained through its freedom-of-information request. “TBC contests all of the citations’ classifications, required abatement, abatement deadlines, proposed penalties, and every other matter subject to contest.”

The injuries and near misses described in the OSHA documents call into question the company’s claims about its innovative tunneling processes, which Musk has long said would make large-scale industrial projects cheaper and faster. Several former staffers say this is bunk—that what mainly distinguishes the Boring Company’s efforts is a willingness to put workers in danger. “It was a serious situation,” says one former employee. “I will never, ever drive in one of those tunnels.”