EL PASO, Texas — KFOX14 Investigates has learned a contractor has now been fined for the death of a worker at Western Refining in December.
On December 1, 2016, Jesus Ruiz died while working at Western Refining.
Little was known about his death, but KFOX14 Investigates obtained new information about the accident from the Occupational Standards and Health Administration (OSHA).
Documents show, Ruiz was a paint-spray machine operator.
In its accident summary report, OSHA said Ruiz put on his air-supplied hood and suffocated because of low oxygen.
According to Western Refining, Ruiz was an employee of a contractor hired by Western Refining.
OSHA has fined that company, The Brock Group based in Houston, more than $23,000.
OSHA investigators found two serious violations with The Brock Group.
KFOX14 Investigates asked a spokesperson for Western Refining what kind of work The Brock Group was doing for the refinery but was told they cannot comment since this is currently under litigation.
According to its website, The Brock Group provides industrial specialty services. The website states, “The company supports routine maintenance, turnarounds and capital projects by providing services including scaffolding and work access, insulation, coatings/linings, and asbestos abatement, as well as additional associated services.”
Records obtained by KFOX14 Investigates show The Brock Group was fined at the end of May, but as of last week, is contesting the fine.
EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — Several incidents reported at Western Refining, including this week’s fire and chemical leak are being investigated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
People in the area of the refinery in Lower Valley reported large plumes of yellow smoke coming from Western Refining on Wednesday. KFOX14 has learned that the yellow smoke and a strange smell coming from Western Refining was an estimated 2,057 pounds of sulfur dioxide that had leaked into the air, according to a report filed by the TCEQ.
A valve malfunction caused a leak from one of the structures at the refinery, the report stated. TCEQ released the following statement to KFOX14
The TCEQ El Paso Regional Office has been in contact with Western Refining since approximately 30 minutes following the visual start of the incident on January 11, 2017. Western Refining provided an initial notification of the incident (incident no. 250319) to the TCEQ on January 12, 2017, within the required 24 hour time frame. An initial notification contains estimated emissions. Estimated emissions may be revised in the final notification (due 14 days from the end of the event). After the final notification is received, the TCEQ will conduct an investigation of the emissions event. If a final notification is not received, the initial notification becomes the final notification.
The regional TCEQ office reported it also received a complaint from member of the public and will be conducting a complaint investigation.
KFOX14 also asked TCEQ whether the sulfur dioxide leak posed a risk to the residents and neighbors in the area. The agency said it would know more about the potential impact in two weeks.
The day after the leak, a fire at the refinery was reported. The refinery’s fire department was able to extinguish the fire.
The local El Paso OSHA office confirmed to KFOX14 it has an open investigation currently at Western Refining surrounding a death which happened in December.
It confirmed it is also looking into the incidents from Wednesday and Thursday.
Residents who spoke to KFOX14 said they aren’t too worried about the sulfur leak. Even though one neighbor did file a complaint with the TCEQ.
“I didn't smell it. And you can smell sulfur, so I wasn't concerned about it. It's no biggie for us. Forty years (living) here and I think we will be here another 40 years if we can,” said Lorenzo Lopez.
Mattew Euzarrega said years ago when the Chevron plant had an issue, he and his family were told the may need to evacuate. He said since that didn’t happen, this time he’s not concerned either.
“I know they have it under control otherwise they could personally come and knock on our door,” said Euzarrega.
Euzarrega said he doesn’t even notice an odor coming from the refinery anymore.
“According to my friends, when they come to visit, there’s a smell. I’ve never smelled it,” said Euzarrega whose lived a block away from the refinery his whole life.
KFOX14 reached out to Western Refining but have not received a response.
The company said it would send out a news release on Wednesday regarding the sulfur dioxide leak, but as of Friday KFOX14 had not received a release.