Four killed at Wisconsin landfill
In a tragic turn of events, four men, two of them brothers, were overcome
by fumes and died at a landfill in Superior, Wisconsin. The landfill, Lakehead
Blacktop and Materials of Superior, Inc., is a private construction and demolition
Joseph Kimmes II, who founded J. Kimmes Construction, owns
the landfill along with several other companies. Killed in the accident were
Joe Kimmes, III and Scott Kimmes, as well as landfill employee Harold Olsen,
and Paul Cossalter, an electrical contractor.
The fumes were hydrogen sulfide, which is a breakdown product
of the landfill waste, according to Connie Antonuk from the Wisconsin Department
of Natural Resources. “You have to anticipate that it will be there,” she
Antonuk noted that this sort of accident is not confined
to landfill operations. Farm workers and silo operators also have to be aware
of the dangers of trapped gasses in confined spaces.
In this case, Antonuk said, “From what we can determine, they went
into a lift station,” which is a 4 foot diameter and 20 foot deep manhole
with a pump at the bottom. The pump is used to send leachate into the city
sewer system as needed.
“Our understanding is that the pump was not functioning,” Antonuk
said. However, she explained that it should not have been necessary for anyone
to enter the manhole. “The design of the pump is such that you can
pull it up to work on it,” she said.
Reports state that after the first person entered the manhole
and did not return, three others followed him, one at a time, in rescue attempts.
By the time rescue workers arrived from the local fire department, it was
too late to save the men.
A manhole, like the one at the landfill, is defined as “a confined
space” in state codes, and there are safety precautions required when
entering such a space. Antonuk said that when someone enters a confined space,
they should have a tripod, harness, gas meter and breathing equipment. A
second person should also be outside the manhole.
Wisconsin State administrative codes also include training
and certification requirements for owners and operators of landfills. Neither
Antonuk nor Mike Kolanczyk from the Superior fire department, which responded
to the accident, was aware of any previous safety issues at the site.
Antonuk noted that worker safety is also an OSHA requirement,
and OSHA is in the process of investigating the event. It may take as many
as six months for a final determination from OSHA, and they will not make
any comments until they have finished the investigation.
While it may be some time before all of the details are
known, one thing is obvious. “They did not use the confined space entry techniques,” Antonuk
said. “It’s very sad.”