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Pacific Steel worker poisoned by 2015 chlorine gas accident in Spokane files lawsuit

UPDATED: Fri., July 7, 2017, 4:51 p.m.

Fairchild Air Force Base and fire department personnel gather on the scene of a chlorine gas leak in this file photo from Aug. 12, 2015, at Pacific Steel and Recycling in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Fairchild Air Force Base and fire department personnel gather on the scene of a chlorine gas leak in this file photo from Aug. 12, 2015, at Pacific Steel and Recycling in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A former Pacific Steel and Recycling employee injured in a chlorine gas leak in 2015 has filed a lawsuit against the company and driver suspected of delivering an unlabeled drum containing the poisonous gas to the recycling facility.

Felix W. Shuck suffered severe respiratory injuries from inhaling chlorine gas. His lung capacity was permanently reduced 50 percent, said his attorney, Janelle Carney. Shuck also was diagnosed with restrictive lung disease and had to leave his job at Pacific Steel as a result, she said.

Shuck was one of eight workers hospitalized from chlorine exposure after an unlabeled one-ton cylinder containing the gas was crushed the morning of Aug. 12, 2015. One of those employees, Edward Dumaw, died from his injuries.

The suit names Ibex Construction, the company that allegedly owned the chlorine tank before it was delivered to Pacific Steel, as well as its owner, Tim Jackson, his wife Roberta, and Gordon Beck, the subcontractor who allegedly delivered the cylinder.

Ibex Construction’s office at 8119 N Regal St. appeared to be vacant, and its phone disconnected. The company’s business registration with the Washington Secretary of State, which lists Tim Jackson as owner, expired January 31 and is inactive. The Spokesman-Review was unable to contact any of the parties named in the suit.

The lawsuit alleges both Ibex and Beck were negligent in not labeling the cylinder, investigating what it contained or determining if it was dangerous before dropping it off for recycling.

Carney said the decision to sue them rather than Pacific Steel was based on her office’s investigation, which found the drum was not labeled and presumably couldn’t have been identified.

“They were put into this difficult situation of having this dropped off there. They weren’t told it was a chlorine tank,” she said.

The Department of Labor and Industries fined Pacific Steel $6,600 for workplace safety violations related to the accident.

The citation, issued Feb. 5, 2016, said Pacific Steel did not adequately enforce policies requiring pressurized gas cylinders be stripped of their gauges and tanks to come with a certificate stating they are empty. It also says the company failed to adequately train employees on how to deal with “unknown large sealed containers.”

Pacific Steel initially appealed the fines, but paid them in full after they were upheld, a Labor and Industries spokeswoman said.

Labor and Industries has never publicly identified Ibex as the source of the cylinder. The full Labor and Industries accident report is exempt from public disclosure under state law, and Carney declined to share a copy or say who identified Ibex or Beck’s involvement in transporting the cylinder.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also investigated the leak and has since closed their investigation, but spokespeople for the agency refused to say where the cylinder came from immediately following the accident and again this week.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress and disability.

Shuck’s suit is the only one filed against Ibex Construction since the accident. No suits have been filed in Spokane County against Pacific Steel since the accident.