| Connect Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook
About | Subscribe | Advertise


Download our free Marine Industry Coating Systems eResource Book

Paint and Coatings Industry News

Main News Page

Brothers’ Deaths in Drain Called ‘Completely Preventable’

Thursday, May 3, 2012

More items for Health & Safety

Comment | More

A California facility has been fined $166,890 for what authorities called the “completely preventable” deaths of two brothers who perished in a storm drain from toxic gas vapors.

The victims’ mother calls the fine “a mockery.”

Armando and Eladio Ramirez, ages 16 and 22, were undocumented workers at Community Recycling and Resource Recovery in Lamont, CA, when they were sent to clean out a blocked underground storm drain system on Oct. 12, 2011.

 Armando and Eladio Ramirez were about seven feet down in the shaft below this opening when they were overcome by poison gas.

 Kern County Fire Department

Armando and Eladio Ramirez were about seven feet down in the shaft below this opening when they were overcome by poison gas. One perished at the scene; the other died a month later.

The eight-foot-deep cement drainage tunnel was filled with hydrogen sulfide gas, a poison that accumulates in sewers, drilling and refinery operations, and other confined spaces where organic materials break down. Community Recycling composts food waste.

Fatal Rescue Attempt

Armando died in the shaft. Eladio was overcome and suffered irreversible brain damage when he went in to rescue his brother—an all-too-common mistake in confined-space accidents, authorities say. Eladio died Nov. 14 at an area hospital after he was taken off life support.

A third man was also injured in trying to rescue Eladio but did not go into the tunnel. He was treated at the hospital and released.

Although known for its “rotten egg” smell, hydrogen sulfide can be odorless at high concentrations and at continuous, low-level exposures. Victims can instantaneously lose the ability to smell the gas and quickly lose consciousness.

16 Citations

California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) has issued 16 citations and fined Community Recycling a total of $166,890 in the case. All of the citations relate to confined-space violations, including failure to properly train workers, test for atmospheric hazards, or have rescue procedures in place.

Twelve citations were issued for serious (life-threatening) violations; four are classified as “other than serious.” The company is appealing the citations.

A&B Harvesting, a farm labor contractor that employed Eladio Ramirez, was issued one citation under OSHA’s general accident-prevention clause.

Imminent Hazard

After the incident, Cal/OSHA declared the drainage system an imminent hazard due to high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas from the food decomposition. The agency issued an order barring workers from the entire system and soon expanded the order to prevent any activity within six feet of the system’s openings.

The agency lifted the restrictions Jan. 6 after Community Recycling implemented an approved Confined Space Entry Program.

 Emergency crews respond to Community Recycling, where two brothers were asphyxiated by toxic gas.

 Kern County Fire Department

Emergency crews respond to Community Recycling, where two brothers were asphyxiated by toxic gas.

The Ramirez brothers were among seven workers who suffered confined-space deaths on the job in California last year—a toll that spurred the state to issue a Confined Space Alert to employers. A companion Confined Space Emphasis Program includes standards, tools and resources for employers, as well as stepped-up enforcement.

‘Tragic Example’

“These young workers’ deaths were completely preventable,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. 

“Hydrogen sulfide gas is a fatal and common by-product of the composting process. Yet Community Recycling and Recovery failed to have proper procedures in place. … These could have saved both workers who were not trained or provided adequate protection.”

Widess said the accident “sharply underscores the need for greater awareness by all employers and workers of the dangers associated with working in confined space and the necessary safety measures  to protect workers when and if they work in these spaces.”

Department of Industrial Relations director Christine Baker called the incident “a tragic example of what can go wrong when employers do not have proper safety procedures in place.”

Mother’s Outrage

The victims’ family calls the state’s actions insufficient. Family members said the brothers had been given only thin painter’s masks to protect them from fumes.

“That fine is a mockery,” their mother, Faustina Ramirez, told

 Faustina Ramirez keeps a memorial shrine to her two sons in her home in Arvin, CA.

Faustina Ramirez keeps a memorial shrine to her two sons in her home in Arvin, CA.

Ramirez has created a shrine to her sons in her home. “I look at them every day,” she said.

The county has been trying to shut down Community Recycling, and supervisors voted in November to revoke conditional use permit. Still, the process grinds on.

Meanwhile, the Cal/OSHA investigation remains open, and those findings will be turned over to local prosecutors to review for possible criminal charges, reports said.

State labor authorities are also investigating the case. Both brothers were undocumented workers, and one was a minor.

“I want justice,” Ramirez told “Losing two sons is not an easy thing.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Confined space; Health and safety; OSHA; Worker training

Comment from Anna Jolly, (5/4/2012, 9:32 AM)

Confined spaces are one of the most dangerous hazards that are faced in the workplace. In this country, this standard has been in place since the early 1990's and many act as if they never heard of it. The death of brothers make it even more horrible.

Comment from Narayanan Girirajan, (5/4/2012, 12:44 PM)

Hydrogen Sulphide leakage is nowadays a serious issue in Industrial & domestic sectors and a vigourous approach for conducting awareness to be made to all citizens irrespective of all industries

Comment from albert Woodward, (5/8/2012, 9:35 AM)

This is criminal!The young men were exploited,for probably less than minimum wage and marched to their deaths. aged 16 and 22.!The owners and management KNEW H2s was present, especially below grade.This is willful and criminal in my opinion.

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

RPB Respiratory

With RPB Safety’s new Nova 3 Cassette Lens System which has been specifically designed to save you time and money! See the benefits for yourself now!

Clemco Industries Corp.
Powerful Protection in a Small Package

Mounts inside blast helmet, alerts operator to dangerous breathing-air condition by audible, visual, and vibratory alarms. Easily calibrated, battery operated.

SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings

Join SSPC and Enhance
Your Career !

CS Unitec
Work Cleaner and Safer

CS Unitec’s Vibro-Lo low-vibration scalers offer high performance for greater productivity & improved operator comfort. Optional dust shroud.

Sidewinder/Persyst Enterprises, Inc.
The Sidewinder Model M2 Solvent Recycler

Combat the rising cost of gunwash, thinners, acetone & more while drastically reducing waste disposal coat.

Modern Safety Techniques
Modern Safety Techniques

With our unique LTCat, we can help to provide clean, safe breathing air to your workers. Take a look at our Breathing Air Systems, we supply at least twice as much charcoal as our competitors! Modern

Blastox/The TDJ Group, Inc.
Blastox - One Step
Lead Abatement

Don't waste money on added labor steps with other methods. Don't mix, meter or apply at the job-site. Avoid strict hazardous waste rules.
Let your painters paint

Novatek Corporation
Dustless Coatings Removal

Strip it, clean it, and profile it,
all dust free! High production
rates and Blast like finishes.
Comply with new lead

US Minerals
US Minerals -
Black Magnum

With nationwide production and distribution capabilities, U.S. Minerals supplies a complete range of coal slag and other abrasives to meet all of your blasting needs.


The Next Generation
of Blasting

• Lightest
• Coolest
• Most Comfortable
• Most Dependable

Technology Publishing

The Technology Publishing Network

The Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings (JPCL) PaintSquare
Durability + Design Paint BidTracker

EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About   |   Privacy policy   |   Terms & conditions   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us

© Copyright 2000-2015, Technology Publishing / PaintSquare, All rights reserved
2100 Wharton Street, Suite 310, Pittsburgh PA 15203-1951; Tel 1-412-431-8300; Fax 1-412-431-5428; E-mail