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Fumes overcome workers at Baxter; 1 dead

January 21, 2011 12:23:31 AM PST
One man is dead and two others are critically injured after being overcome by fumes at a medical products company early Friday morning.Firefighters called the incident a tragic accident.

Authorities responded to Baxter Healthcare Corp. on the 4500 block of West Colorado Boulevard, north of Atwater Village, at 3:57 a.m. and found three workers overcome by fumes.

Authorities said the first person was in a hallway not breathing. Paramedics worked to save his life, while firefighters rushed to the aid of the other two workers. One had tried to rescue the other from inside an empty 6,000-gallon tank. Firefighters said the tank usually holds blood, and ethanol is used to separate the blood from plasma.

"The individual went inside and was using detergent to clean and scrub the inside of this tank," said Capt. Jaime Moore of the Los Angeles City Fire Department. Moore said the vapors from the ethanol was what overcame the first worker in the tank.

The worker cleaning the tank was taken to a local hospital, where he later died. His two coworkers are in serious condition, but they are able to speak to doctors and investigators.

The deceased was identified as L.A. resident, Henry Astilla, 33.

Firefighters said the tank is only 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. The opening to climb inside is 18 to 24 inches in diameter. Because the fumes were contained in such a small space, firefighters were very careful in their response.

Batt. Chief Craig Fry of L.A. City Fire said they called in two hazardous materials squads. All three victims were cleaned before taken to the hospital, and every firefighter at the scene was also decontaminated.

Firefighters, police and Cal-OSHA are now investigating in hopes of preventing a similar tragedy.

"This is a facility that has a great track record for safety that we're aware of. This is the first situation that I've known that has occurred here, so it's very unusual that this would happen," Fry said.

"We haven't had any previous accidents at that location. There's nothing that would indicate a more chronic problem," said Krisann Chasarik, Cal-OSHA.

Baxter Healthcare Corp. manufactures equipment for medical companies. The company is headquartered outside of Chicago.