Victor Rodriguez, only 30 years old, a contract worker from Houston, Texas, was killed and another contracter was injured in an accident Sunday at the Valero St. Charles Refinery in Norco, Louisiana. The fatal incident occurred in the refinery’s catalytic cracking unit, which was shut down at the time of the accident.  This unit was shut down at the end of last month for an estimated 56-day conversion into a traditional fluid catalytic cracker.

An evacuation preceded the fatal refinery accident, after the odor of hydrogen sulfide was detected on site, according to the Louisiana State Police.  Subsequent testing did reveal some level of hydrogen sulfide exposure.

According to Valero, two contract workers with Koch Specialty Plant Services were hurt about 3 p.m. Sunday.  Both were taken to an area hospital, where one of them died.  The two contractors were grinding exposed metal pieces on a new elevated unit in Norco, Louisiana when they smelled an odor.

An investigation into the cause of the accident is under way and the plant remains in operation.  There is some speculation that Victor Rodriguez, the Texas contract worker who was killed fell down a ladder when trying to evacuate the facility.  Since inhalation of hydrogen sulfide in some concentrations can cause rapid unconsciousness, it is unclear if this exposure precipitated the fatal workplace fall.  The head injury sustained by Rodriguez in his accident is not attributable yet to toxic exposure or the fall, or both.  Investigations remain ongoing.

While the majority of the nation’s refineries are aging and in disrepair, this Valero location is one of the newest refineries in the country, with most of its major components built within the past 30 years.  The refinery has a capacity of 250,000 barrels per day.

Hydrogen sulfide is a respiratory irritant; pulmonary edema can occur after exposure to high concentrations.  Symptoms of acute exposure include nausea, headaches, delirium, disturbed equilibrium, tremors, convulsions, and skin and eye irritation.

If you or someone you care about has been injured in a refinery accident or while working as a contractor on a third-party job site, please contact the personal injury law firm of Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers for assistance and information about your legal rights at [email protected].