Last updated: December 23. 2013 3:11PM - 2455 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

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The widow of a local man suffocated by toxic fumes while draining wastewater into a McGill Environmental Systems tanker at Clinton’s Smithfield Packing plant is suing McGill for wrongful death.

Wallace and Graham of Salisbury, N.C. has filed a lawsuit against North Carolina-based McGill on behalf of the widow.The lawsuit claims that Brandon Taylor, 26, an employee of the Smithfield hog processing plant in Clinton, died while draining wastewater sludge into a tanker truck owned by McGill while standing on top of the McGill tanker. The death occurred shortly after midnight on Feb. 18, 2012. Smithfield is not named in the suit.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the Federal Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, claims that McGill had a duty to warn individuals working on its tankers being loaded with wastewater containing hydrogen sulfide of the dangers of the toxic gas. The gas has a scent like rotten eggs, but can knock out a person’s sense of smell quickly, leaving the victim unaware they are breathing in a toxic quantity, the lawsuit states.

“The wastewater contained high levels of poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas,” said Mona Lisa Wallace, founding partner of the Wallace and Graham law firm.

Wallace’s firm, in the suit, stated that hydrogen sulfide gas, also known as “sewer gas,” can be found in hog farm waste and manure ponds and in the waste from slaughterhouses and food processing plants.

“There have been many reports of individuals being injured or dying as a result of exposure to hydrogen sulfide while working around hog farm manure pits and ponds and in other industrial settings,” the release stated. “Hydrogen sulfide is so toxic that it was reported to have been used as a poison gas weapon in World War I. It is said to be as dangerous as cyanide.”

Plaintiff Victoria Taylor, mother of Taylor’s two young sons, lived with her husband in Clinton at the time of his death. Taylor was a school teacher and pregnant with the couple’s second son. As a result of the loss of her husband and his income, Taylor was required to move out of the state after his death and now resides in Illinois, the suit states.

That could have all been prevented, the lawsuit maintains.

McGill operates industrial-scale composting facilities in North Carolina, Virginia and Ireland and specializes in composting biodegradable materials from industrial, municipal and agribusiness sources. McGill and Smithfield Packing have worked together for more than a decade to recycle close to 200,000 tons of residuals and by-products to reuse as feedstocks in the manufacture of compost products.

As part of that partnership, McGill sent tanker-trailers to the Smithfield hog processing plants, including the Clinton plant, to pick up loads of wastewater sludge containing hydrogen sulfide and other toxic substances and gases. The waste was held in four giant overhead storage tanks at the Smithfield hog plant until tanker-trailers came to take it away.

According to the suit, on the night of his death Taylor climbed on top of a McGill tanker to drain wastewater sludge into it from one of the overhead storage tanks at the plant. After some time had passed, the McGill driver realized that something was wrong and came out of his cab and discovered Taylor had collapsed, overcome by the gas. Investigators deemed inhalation of the hydrogen sulfide gas as the cause of death.

The suit contends that McGill knew the hog waste was hazardous and, on “one or more occasions” before Taylor died, other individuals were overcome by the gas and fell off the McGill tankers or were otherwise injured.

“McGill should not have allowed anyone to climb on top of its tankers and open the hatch without taking proper precautions. However, prior to the death, McGill never undertook any appropriate safety precautions to prevent death or serious injury to its employees or to others, including Mr. Taylor,” the suit alleges. “If McGill had undertaken appropriate precautions, Mr. Taylor would not have died.”

The plaintiff is seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages.

Wallace and Graham, with two out-of-state firms, are also representing clients in ongoing farm nuisance disputes against Murphy Brown and Smithfield, alleging foul smell and pollution, including unsanitary storage of hog waste in lagoons and the spraying of liquid manure on adjoining land. That litigation involves approximately 900 claimants from Sampson and surrounding counties alleging nuisance at 59 farms in North Carolina owned and operated by farmers with Murphy-Brown LLC, subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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