Four Workers Found Dead in Confined Space

Nov. 2, 2007
Four workers believed to have entered a manhole to unplug a blockage in the village of Superior, Wis., were found dead Nov. 1, presumably from breathing toxic vapors.

Rescue workers responded to a 5:30 p.m. emergency call and arrived at the scene to find all four victims, who already appeared to be dead, in a 20-foot deep well. The bodies were recovered by 8:30 p.m.

The victims, whose names were not released as of Nov. 1, worked for the Lakehead Blacktop Demolition Landfill, according to a sign near the site. The registered owner of the property was unavailable for comment.

According to media reports, the well contained water when responders arrived on the scene, but it appears the workers succumbed to toxic fumes.

The well contained a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide, a gas commonly released from sewer products. While the gas typically emits a strong smell of rotten eggs, high concentrations may render it odorless. Brief exposure to this poisonous, flammable and colorless gas can cause difficulty in breathing and loss of consciousness. Although the well is outdoors, hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air and would remain in the confined space.

Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec was unaware whether the victims were wearing breathing devices. Autopsies will confirm the cause of death.

OSHA officials are expected to arrive at the scene Nov. 2 to investigate.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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