Oct. 14 -- Federal officials have
opened an investigation into the death of a 16-year-old boy who died Oct. 12
at a composting facility in Lamont, Calif., which also reportedly has left his
22-year-old brother brain dead.
Armando Ramirez of Arvin, Calif.,
was pronounced dead at Kern Medical Center, after apparently inhaling deadly
levels of hydrogen sulfide fumes at a composting operation, The Bakersfield
Californian reported. An autopsy is expected to be performed to determine the
exact cause of death.
Ramirez´s brother, Eladio, and two
other men also were overcome by fumes and taken to the medical center. Eladio
is brain dead, family members told the newspaper.
Armando, Eladio and one of the two
other men -- whose names have not been released -- were inside an 8-foot-deep
drainage tunnel at Community Recycling and Resource Co. The third man was at
the surface of the shaft and also inhaled the gas.
County officials told the newspaper
that they detected a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide inside the tunnel –
but did not disclose exact amounts. Hydrogen sulfide, also known as "sour
gas," is lethal at high levels and gives off an aroma like rotten eggs.
According to the U.S. Center for
Disease Control (CDC), it has been reported that 170 parts per million (ppm) to
300 ppm is the maximum concentration that can be endured by people for 1 hour
without serious consequences. Olfactory fatigue, the inability to discern
odors, occurs at 100 ppm.
The CDC says sour gas at
concentration levels of 500 ppm to 700 ppm may be dangerous in a half hour; 700
ppm to 1,000 ppm results in unconsciousness, cessation of respiration and death
in a few minutes to a half-hour; and concentration levels of 1,000 ppm to 2,000
ppm results in unconsciousness, cessation of respiration and death in a few
The two brothers had recently
complained to family members about strong odors at the facility and that they
had been given only painters’ masks to protect them from the fumes, the
A spokesman for the U.S. Department
of Labor told the newspaper that investigators began looking into the incident
because Armando Ramirez is a minor.
Cal-OSHA is also investigating the
incident, telling the newspaper that it will look at Community Recycling´s
confined space entry program, as well as the company´s compliance with rules
regarding monitoring of oxygen and methane levels.
Community Recycling’s Lamont plant
produces soil-enhancement material by composting organic waste from items such
as produce from grocery stores and tree trimmings. Hydrogen sulfide is
considered a common byproduct of the composting process, Peter Bloom,
controller at Liberty Composting, an unrelated recycling company in
Bakersfield, told the newspaper.
Community Recycling is part of Crown
Disposal Co. Inc., a 51-year-old, family-owned company based in Sun Valley.
Crown operates and manages biomass-fueled power plants in the California cities
of Firebaugh and Dinuba.
Contact Waste & Recycling News
reporter Shawn Wright at email@example.com or 313-446-0346.