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Toxic fumes blamed for deaths of 4 workers at industrial site in Superior, Wis.
Well Accident MNDUH 5253839
A Douglas County Medical Examiner's van passes law enforcement officers while going to the site where four workers died after being overcome by toxic fumes in an industrial well in Superior, Wis., Thursday night, Nov. 1, 2007. A well accident killed the four workers who apparently were overcome by toxic fumes Thursday and died before rescuers could get to them, authorities said. - photo by Associated Press
    SUPERIOR, Wis. — Toxic fumes are believed to have killed four workers whose bodies were pulled from a 12-foot-deep sewer line near a construction company landfill, authorities said Friday.
    ‘‘They were either down in the manhole trying to clear a blockage or they were going down to repair a pump in the bottom of the manhole,’’ said Douglas County Sheriff Thomas Dalbec, who said he believes they died one after another as each went down to help Thursday.
    ‘‘First one goes down and is overcome by gas and drops or falls, and the second one looking down from above sees the first one, figures he can go down to rescue. Same thing happens to him, the third one, same thing, and fourth one, same thing happens.’’
    Firefighters who responded to the scene got a hydrogen sulfide reading of 200 parts per million, Fire Chief Tad Matheson said. A safe reading of the toxic gas, which commonly is released with sewer products, is less than one part per million.
    At the levels found in the manhole, ‘‘You take a couple whiffs and it would knock you down right away,’’ Matheson said.
    Dalbec identified the victims, whose bodies were recovered Thursday night, as brothers Joseph P. Kimmes, 44, and Scott A. Kimmes, 40, along with Harold Tim Olson, 47, and Paul E. Cossalter, 41.
    The Kimmes brothers worked at the landfill owned by their family. Dalbec said Cossalter worked for a consultant for the Kimmes family companies, and he was not certain about Olson’s employment.
    The Kimmes brothers and Olson were from the village of Superior and the surrounding area, Dalbec said. Cossalter came from Wrenshall, Minn.
    Joseph Kimmes II, the 71-year-old founder of J. Kimmes Construction, which owns the Lakehead Blacktop and Materials landfill, said he was unsure exactly what happened in the large collection tank, which held drainage and leeched water from the landfill. The water collected in the tank eventually gets pumped into the city sewer system, he said.
    The landfill was for demolition products, such as from buildings that were torn down, Kimmes said. No garbage or hazardous materials were hauled there, he said.
    Douglas County authorities received a call at about 5:30 p.m. that there were people in the sewer line.
    The victims were believed to have died before rescuers arrived, Matheson said.
    Firefighters with breathing equipment led the recovery effort, and workers pumped water out to help.
    Two U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors were sent to the scene Friday, OSHA area director Mark Hysell said.
    The OSHA investigation could take months, Hysell said. One of the issues they will look at is whether the company was required to have procedures for working in confined spaces such as the collection tank.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Robert Imrie in Wausau, Wis., and Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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