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Toxic gas kills 3 at Jamaica recycling plant

A father and son working to clean out a toxic dry well in a Jamaica plant were killed Monday afternoon along with a third man when they were exposed to the lethal gases inside the hole, the authorities said.

Harel Dahan, 23, who worked for South Ozone Park-based S. Dahan Inc. sewer specialists, was cleaning out the 18-foot deep hole at a Royal Waste Services recycling center on 172-08 Douglas Ave. with his crew around 2:30 p.m. when he fell in, according to police.

Dahan’s 49-year-old father, Shlomo, who founded and owned the company, and Royal worker Rene Francisco Rivas, 53, of Jamaica, went down the hole on a ladder to try to rescue their fallen co-worker, but were overcome by the hydrogen sulfide fumes, the police said.

“Confined spaces are always dangerous conditions,” FDNY Assistant Chief John Sudnick said.

Firefighters arrived at the scene within seven minutes and a firefighter equipped with a breathing apparatus went into the well to try to save the men who were found face down in three feet of water, according to Sudnick. When the bodies were taken out of the hole around 3 p.m., EMS crews pronounced them dead at the scene, the FDNY said.

Sudnick said the hole contained 200 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide, which is lethal within seconds for humans at 100 parts per million. The private well is used to collect excess water and debris from the center and is not connected to city sewer pipes, according to Sudnick.

The firefighter who was sent down the hole was taken to Jamaica Hospital for observations, but was not affected by the fumes, according to the FDNY.

Shlomo Dahan’s second son, who was wearing an S. Dahan Inc. T-shirt, wailed when he arrived at the scene and did not comment to reporters.

Royal Waste Services did not return calls for comment as of press time Tuesday. Sudnick said the police were reviewing videotape that had footage of the incident, but there was no criminality suspected.

Royal Waste Services, formally known as Regal Recycling Co. Inc., was fined $1,500 by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2006 for a 2005 accident at the site that killed a worker who was operating a Caterpillar 960F wheel loader.

Abe Rosenthal, a longtime friend of Shlomo Dahan who lives in Flushing, arrived at the scene and said he was stunned about the accident.

“It is unbelievable,” he said.

Shlomo Dahan, who lived in Brooklyn with his wife and four children, was born in Israel and was deeply religious, according to Rosenthal. He said his friend had started the business himself and worked hard to support his family.

“He was the sweetest guy I know,” Rosenthal said.

The father and son had a funeral service in Brooklyn and were flown to Israel for burial, according to Rosenthal. Hundreds of mourners packed the synagogue and were in tears as they remembered the Dahans.

“They’re very emotional, they can’t accept it,” Rosenthal said.

S. Dahan Inc., located at 126-14 Van Wyck Expwy., uses high-tech equipment to clean sewers of private residences and businesses across New York, according to its Web site. In addition to its large pump vacuum, which was used at the Royal site, the company has a digital mini-camera, high-pressure jet and diamond cutters.

It is not known if the company had breathing apparatuses or gas detectors at the scene of the accident.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext.146.

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