Worker Killed by Walnut Blasting Particles


An Edmonton, Alberta, man has died due to exposure to walnut blasting materials used to remove old paint from a fire station, leading to a call for regulating such products.

Justin Matthews went to the Rossdale Fire Station Oct. 2 to inspect the air quality as part of his job; a company had recently been working inside to blast old lead paint off the walls as part of a renovation, reports Global News Canada.

His family reported that Matthews, was inside the building for 20 minutes before he began to experience difficulty breathing. He walked outside and collapsed shortly after, going into anaphylactic shock.

Allergic Reaction

“He inhaled probably a lot of walnut particles from the walnut blasting compound that was all over there,” explained the worker's father, David Matthews.

His mother believes that her son was not aware of the risk, noted Global News; she said that Matthews had developed a nut allergy as a child.

Matthews was rushed to the University of Alberta hospital, but was unresponsive and soon lapsed into a coma. His family chose to take him off life support five days later.

In light of his passing, Matthews’ family is calling for regulation of walnut blasting materials, including signage at sites where the media is used.

"You can find walnut shells in tires, in sandblasting," Shari Reklow, Matthews' sister, told CBC News. "It's in places you don't even think to look look for it. If you're not made properly aware, how can you protect yourself? How can you protect your family?

"It's taken very seriously as a food product. How many times do you see may contain nuts, or come into contact with nuts in the factory? How many times do you see that on the labels?"

Walnut Products in Blasting

The use of walnut shell products is on the rise as a safer and more sustainable blasting media, in lieu of more hazardous abrasives such as silica sand. 

"During sandblasting operations, the silica can get very fine, and become what's called respirable, which means you can breathe it in and it gets onto your lungs and can cause things like silicosis, lung cancers and other respiratory ailments,” said Alberta Labor spokesperson Trent Bancarz.

According to McKinley Resources Inc., walnut shells are used in blasting for the removal of graffiti, and smoothing a roughened surface or vice versa. This form of blasting can also be used to removed baked-on deposits from ferrous metals like iron and steel.

Industry Regulation

According to Bancarz, Matthews’ death was an unusual incident.

"There isn't anything specifically in the health and safety code or any of the legislation that particularly mentions walnuts individually, but we do have laws in place in general that require employers to take all reasonable steps to keep workers safe at the job,” Bancarz went on to tell CBC News. “And also workers are to be informed of any potential danger or potential hazards in the workplace so that they're forewarned and they can take the steps to avoid them."

The CBC confirmed that an investigation by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is investigating Matthews’ death. The inquiry must be completed within two years.

Editor's note: This story was one of our most popular of 2017, and appeared in our Readers' Choice edition on Dec. 27. Since its original publication, there has been no official report from Alberta OSH on the cause of the incident or any implications for the industry; the agency's investigation is ongoing.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Abrasives; Accidents; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Surface preparation

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