Two workers were killed at a landfill owned by Waste Management, Inc. April 14 in Bordentown, NJ. Donald R. James, 31, and John J. Pallante, 28, were asphyxiated when they were buried in a 15-foot-deep clay trench that collapsed on them while they were constructing it. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the men tried to escape but were not able to outrun the collapsing clay. Their co-workers tried "frantically" to dig them out from under 3 to 12 feet of heavy clay, unsuccessfully.
Trench construction is a well-known technology. Shoring up the sides of an earth trench to prevent collapse is something civil engineers have known how to do for many years. An inspector for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) gave permission for construction of the trench to continue, provided that either lumber be used to reinforce the sides of the trench or a trench box be used to shore up the trench walls. Don Allendorf, OSHA area director, said neither of these precautions was being used when the trench collapsed.
Waste Management in Oak Brook, IL, issued a statement saying the company regretted the accident and extended its sympathies to the families of the victims. A spokesperson for the company, Peter Yaffe, said construction of the trench would only resume when "it's an absolutely safe site."
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sent an investigative team to the site to determine the cause of the accident. At the end of one day, they announced "Our investigation is over." They also announced they had not determined the cause of the accident, but a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Edward Londres, said they'd found that the construction site met all state standards, and he praised Waste Management, Inc., saying "Their record with New Jersey is excellent. I have no problems with them at all."
The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJ PIRG) and the New Jersey Environmental Federation are currently carrying out campaigns to limit the DEP's discretionary authority for law enforcement. The environmental groups charge that the agency has consistently failed to enforce existing laws and that the situation has worsened under the administration of Governor Thomas Kean.
Waste Management is the largest waste hauler in America; it
operates 110 landfills in 40 states and four foreign countries.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: wmi; accidents; death; nj; osha; don allendorf; njdep; edward londres; njpirg; dep; kean; haulers;