Asphyxiation Cause Of Stemilt Worker’s Death; Billed As Accident
It's now known why a fruit storage worker died inside a controlled atmosphere chamber in East Wenatchee.
"The cause was asphyxiation due to a lack of oxygen within the controlled atmosphere room," said Douglas County Coroner Tanner Bateman.
Bateman says he was able to complete the death certificate after talking to the pathologist who performed the autopsy on 61-year-old Randy Washut.
Washut was found unresponsive in a controlled atmosphere chamber at the Stemilt Growers plant near Pangborn Memorial Airport.
The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has confirmed it's investigating the workplace death that happened on October 1st at about 9:30am.
Bateman said the county is classifying the death as an accident.
Controlled atmosphere, or CA chambers are air-tight storage rooms where the level of oxygen is reduced so fruit quality can be maintained. The carbon dioxide concentration is typically allowed to rise, which also contributes to quality maintenance.
Pace International manages the chemical balance in the CA chambers for Stemilt.
The normal oxygen concentration of air is 21 percent, which is reduced to as low as 1 percent in the CA rooms.
Workers for Pace are required to check the room's oxygen levels before entering and are told not to enter without proper breathing equipment if the level is 17 percent or lower.
Bateman said the oxygen level of the room where Washut was found was 12 percent.
The investigation by the Department of Labor & Industries could take up to six months to complete. The agency does not comment on workplace deaths while they’re under investigation.
Bateman said he's still waiting on the official autopsy report from the performing doctor.