Man Dies Trying to Save Co-Workers From Toxic Fumes

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LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- One man is dead and two others are in grave condition after they were overcome by chemical fumes inside a blood storage tank at a medical facility in the Atwater Village area.

The incident was reported shortly before 4 a.m. Friday at the Baxter Healthcare Corp. manufacturing plant in the 4500 block of Colorado Blvd.

Two workers were cleaning the tank when they were overcome by fumes.

A third man, in his 30s, collapsed while trying to help his co-workers.

When fire officials arrived, they found the man, identified as Henry Topacio Astilla, in a hallway with no pulse, LAFD spokesperson Erik Scott said.

He was revived with CPR, but later died at a hospital.

The other two victims were found inside the tank.

They were transported to local hospitals in critical condition.

Investigators say the tank, about 5 feet in diameter and 4 feet tall, is used to store blood.

Ethanol is used to separate the blood plasma.

The workers were cleaning the empty tank with detergent when they were overcome by chemical fumes, Fire Department Capt. Jaime Moore said.

Moore praised first responders' quick actions in rescuing the victims.

"Were it not for the actions they took when they got on scene, all three would be dead," Moore said.

An investigation was expected to determine whether the plant was obeying health and safety laws.

Baxter International said in a statement that it was saddened by the death and was awaiting information about the status of the other two workers.

The company said it was investigating the events and cooperating with other investigators. It released no details of the accident, other than that it "involved entry into a tank used in the production process."

Baxter said its Los Angeles facility has been operating for more than 50 years and is the world's largest and most advanced plasma-fractionation facility, producing plasma proteins used in the treatment of immune disorders, hemophilia, trauma and other life-threatening conditions.

The 269,000-square-foot plant employs 1,100 people.

Baxter, based in Deerfield, Ill., is a global bioscience corporation that makes everything from vaccines to dialysis materials.

The Atwater Village plant generally has a good safety record, with only a single $185 fine for a minor violation in 2005, said Krisann Chasarik, a spokeswoman for Cal-OSHA.

 

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