Photo: Community Recycling Deaths in California
State workplace regulators levied $166,890 in fines and issued multiple citations against the largest composting facility in California, near Bakersfield, where two brothers died last fall while cleaning a stormwater drain.
Officials with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, said the agency issued 16 citations against the Community Recycling & Resource Recovery composting facility. Sixteen-year-old Armando Ramirez and his brother, 22-year-old Heladio Ramirez, died of hydrogen sulfide poisoning after Armando had been cleaning out a storm water drain.
The civil citations aren’t the end of Community Recycling’s difficulties. Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigation also is looking into possible criminal activity by the company.
These findings could be turned over to the Kern County district attorney’s office, according to Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza. Also, the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement is investigating Community Recycling for possible violation of child labor laws.
Heladio Ramirez had gone down a hole and into the drain to rescue Armando Ramirez, who had lost consciousness while cleaning debris from the drain. Armando was pronounced dead at the scene Oct. 12, and Heladio died at Kern Medical Center on Oct. 14 after being taken off life support.
According to county documents, the Community Recycling facility used discharged sewage water from an adjacent utility district to moisten its composting piles. While cleaning the drain, the brothers inhaled hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas that sewage can generate.
Robert Perez, an attorney for the brothers’ mother, Faustina Ramirez, said Cal/OSHA’s action will allow her to move forward with her lawsuit against Community Recycling. The lawsuit is seeking at least $25,000 in damages, including funeral and burial expenses.