June 11, 2008 The Pump Handle 1Comment

by revere
Originally posted at Effect Measure 

You know any post that starts out . . .

Gerardo Castillo, 30 years old, had worked at the Blommer Chocolate Co. for 9 years. His family wanted him to quite ever since an explosion in a roaster killed a fellow worker and injured another. He was fearful himself, but he stayed on . . .

is going to end badly. You’d be right. Continuing with our post . . .

But on the weekend, something terrible happened at Blommer’s four story factory on Chicago’s Near West Side, after an unnamed substance was added to a batch of chocolate resulting in a chemical reaction that produced ammonia or an ammonia-like substance. Two co-workers were hospitalized. Ammonia and ammonia-like chemicals are extremely irritating to the respiratory tract. They can cause laryngospasm, a condition where the larynx involuntarily locks up to prevent the irritant from gaining access to the lungs. It is like being chemically garroted. The worker can’t breathe. If the ammonia gets into the lungs it can cause severe inflammation and an outpouring of fluid from the blood into the lung sacs where gas exchange must take place to maintain loife. The worker drowns in his own body fluids. That is likely what happened to Gerardo Castillo last weekend.

Two days later (yesterday) a fire department hazmat team was called back to the factory to deal with a fire there. In 2005 a neighbor complained about the smell from the factory and an EPA inspection revealed a violation of the limits on the thickness of dust produced by the factory’s grinder. But the EPA is not a workplace safety agency.

This was the second fatal accident at this factory in seven years. You’d think the first might have drawn the interest of OSHA. You’d be wrong. The Bush administration OSHA is out of the business of being interested in workplace safety:

OSHA last inspected the facility in 1994, said federal compliance officer Tricia Railton, who was reading from a report. Those safety investigations had to do with workers who were cleaning a piece of equipment that either had not been disconnected or was not marked as being potentially dangerous to the cleaners if turned on. It was not immediately clear if an injury prompted that inspection, Railton said. (Chicago Tribune)

Not only had the Bush administration OSHA not inspected a company with a fatal accident, but it was a company with a prior record of workplace safety violation.

So, yes, this post ends badly:

Castillo left two children, with the youngest, Daniele, 3, still not told as of Monday afternoon that her father had died, [his brother-in-law Miguel] Reyna said. (Chicago Tribune)

OSHA finally sent inspectors to Brommer Chocolate. The day after Gerardo Castillo died.


One thought on “Death by Chocolate

  1. Gerardo rip. He was a good young friend, what a

    bad feeling and convulsing emotions when his

    family gave me the news, This very simple hard

    working united family originals of coahuila

    Mexico, with lots of humility I have the

    privilege of working together with them at

    blommer for some yrs. many of gerardo’s brothers

    sisters, his father uncles and cousins work or

    have worked any other time at blommer, hard

    working people almost never complain because the

    fact they are the two only minorities working

    forever there polish and Mexicans, their poor

    English to communicate properly and in need of

    the job, all them beautiful people unbelievable

    hard working people credit to those old polish

    ladies, people that gave their blood to the

    blommer company, spite of the bad conditions of

    the factory, hot like hell, hot chocolate

    everywhere, no ventilation, I was feets away

    down the 3th. flooer of the explotion time ago

    when the other death happened, the explosion of

    the Stupid Old Cocoa bean Roaster so strong that

    demolished the wall of the room exposing it from

    outside the factory building the big hole and

    bent steel beams, Victor Casillas lost his life

    on this explosion, so many times the fire

    department had to fight back hard when this old

    machinery got fire, Old crap. Victor Casillas

    rip, Adrian the other victim on that time almost

    died he was in comma for a while, still young

    fellows like gerardo they left young wife with

    two young kids ,both Victor and Gerardo Good

    soccer players, healthy people. Gera was working

    enclosed in a small room catching the black

    cocoa powder, that is the cocoa liquor after

    been compressed and because it comes very hot

    out of the presses they use nitrogen to cool it

    down, now what the family told me is that there

    was a leakage of the Nitrogen that in same way

    cause the poisoning of Gera, did N combined with

    other substances cause it or what? because it

    seems the poisonous element was odorless still

    waiting for the forensics report, they holding

    for like two more months,Gera found like if he

    fell asleep all skin purple by work bench at the

    bag filler even the coworker firs on the scene

    himself fell to the flour in the spot unconcious

    due to the horrible scene, or may be still the

    poisonous substance still enclosed there, this

    is a small room belive me.. Now , I use to work

    there and the environment conditions, were bad,

    like hell your supervisors lack a communication,

    screaming to old and young coworkers the same,

    and the fast pace of work make that even worse

    than unhealthy and risky at all time.
    There are everywhere too many people without the

    right legal status to work properly in this

    country and had been abused time and time again,

    risking their live since the moment they make

    the hard decision to move for a better living,

    unrefutable fact of nature you have to move in

    order to survive, only choice, but when some

    body, for years keep them exploiting all over

    and over, without remorse, then what is left,

    now who is the guilty one, and then they say,

    hey!!!.. don’t get lawyers we are going to fix

    it good, yeah.. right..
    And don’t come to me with the romantic feelings

    of the smell of the chocolate that impregnates

    the downtown, every time I going there the smell

    brigs to memory frustrating times, even when I

    am enjoying my marathon, (better organization

    this year I hope, please).
    I think blommer enjoys privileges of some kind

    from the city, they have been in this location

    for a while, I remember from time to time they

    just told you hey, here your paycheck less the

    amount of money we gave for charity, so easy

    they always trying to show the good face, I just

    can’t believe OSHA gives Carta Blanca to this

    Company, I got to know Joe Blommer, Rick

    Blommer, they are cordial people but, still

    unfair to the employees inside, any moment

    another victim is waiting to be counted also the

    health problems to what one is exposed inside,

    like the acid from the cocoa liquor cause your

    hair to fall damage your skin perforate your

    lungs and digestive system, employees are the

    living evidence.. apart from various people been

    mutilated because of the obsolete machinery, and

    those machinists on maintenance frustrated,

    hiding o back of the shop drinking their vodka.


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