3 cleaning workers killed in putrid NYC well

By Frank Eltman
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Three workers hired to clean out a putrid well at a waste transfer station on Monday apparently were overcome by toxic fumes, fell down a narrow shaft and died, the fire department said.

Initially one worker went into the shaft, and the other two went in after him when he didn't return, said John Sudnik, fire department deputy assistant chief of the Queens borough command. They all fell through the shaft and into the well.

The workers were hired to clean out a basin intended to catch water and waste from the transfer station, where garbage is sorted for recycling. The entrance to the basin is through a manhole 3 feet wide and 18 feet long. It isn't clear how far they got down before they fell.

The men likely were overcome by hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas common in wells like the one they were hired to clean out, Sudnik said. The gas is created by water and decomposing garbage. About 100 parts per million of the gas in the air is considered incredibly dangerous, and crews were getting readings at the scene of 200 parts per million, Sudnik said.

Emergency crews got a call around 2:30 p.m. and were on the scene seven minutes later. By the time they reached the workers, they were dead, Sudnik said. It took about 20 minutes to pull them out.

The waste transfer station, called Royal Waste Services, is attached to the Regal Recycling company. A person who answered the phone there wouldn't comment.

The transfer station is in an industrial stretch of Queens, with a dirt road leading to the facility, not far from the Long Island Rail Road station. The stench of garbage permeates the area. A sign saying "putrescible solid waste" and another that says "No drums, asbestos, hazardous materials, medical waste or tires" hang at the gate.

The names of the workers weren't immediately released.


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