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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pacific Steel fined in connection with chlorine gas leak that killed a worker

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries has fined Pacific Steel and Recycling $6,600 in connection with two workplace safety violations found after a chlorine gas release in August left one worker dead and seven others hospitalized.

The gas escaped from a 1-ton metal cylinder that workers were crushing in preparation for recycling the morning of Aug. 12, sickening workers in the plant at 1114 N. Ralph St.

The citation, issued Feb. 5, says 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.”

Each violation comes with a $3,300 fine. Pacific Steel has until March 2 to appeal or pay the fine.

Pacific Steel could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Both violations have been corrected.

The violations are considered serious, the middle of three severity levels for L&I citations. General violations are less serious and usually come with no or minimal fines. Willful violations are the most serious and typically involve larger fines, L&I spokesman Tim Church said.

L&I did not investigate the origin of the tank responsible for the leak.

“We were most interested in what happened at the site that led to the exposure to these workers,” Church said.

The EPA is conducting a separate investigation into the tank’s origin, which is ongoing, Church said. A call to an EPA spokeswoman was not immediately returned Wednesday.

The full results of L&I investigations are considered confidential and are not published for incidents that resulted in serious injuries or death.

Chlorine gas is toxic and can cause severe irritation of the nose and throat, severe lung damage or death.

Edward K. Dumaw, 44, a Pacific Steel employee who was exposed, died several days after the incident.

The cloud of gas floated to a nearby city vehicle fleet center at 901 N. Nelson St., where workers were evaluated for exposure, but not hospitalized.

Response to the gas release occupied about 100 firefighters, paramedics and hazmat team members for most of the day. The city plans to bill Pacific Steel for the cost of the response, which Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said has not yet been calculated. He said responding to the incident taxed city and county resources, requiring the fire department to call in a number of other agencies, including Kootenai County first responders.

“It was probably the most complex incident for us in the past 12 months … because of the sheer number of patients,” he said.