CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The estate of a man who died after being buried in salt residue at the North Charleston paper mill in 2017 is suing two industrial cleaning companies.
The wrongful death lawsuit against Palmetto Industrial Services and Thompson Industrial Services was filed in Charleston County last Thursday.
According to the lawsuit, both companies were contracted by the paper mill to clean a boiler, which aggregated a salt compound, known as "salt cake" on the interior tubes and walls.
The lawsuit claims the contracted companies did not properly remove all of the salt cake and failed to notify paper mill employees.
Later in the lawsuit, the plaintiff claims Lawrence Ray Shiner, Jr. and three other paper mill employees were working below the boiler to make repairs to equipment.
"As he was doing so, he heard a loud rumble sound and then watched as a massive amount of salt cake fell from above onto Mr. Shiner," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit claims the “avalanche” of salt cake buried Shiner and his partner.
One employee was allegedly able to dig Shiner's work partner out of the salt cake, but could not save Shiner.
"Within minutes, a Kapstone rescue squad arrived and used vacuum hoses and shovels to dig the salt cake out, cut a hole in the side of the hopper, and dropped ropes down from above," the lawsuit claims. "But they were unable to prevent his death."
The lawsuit says Mr. Shiner died inside the boiler from "mechanical asphyxiation" because he was trapped in the toxic salt substance that fell on him.
In the last five years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has conducted at least four inspections of Kapstone.
During three of those inspections, OSHA found at least 7 initial violations.
One of those violations includes an incident from April 30, 2017 where an employee was killed and another employee was hospitalized for asphyxia.
Kapstone had to pay $10,000 as a penalty for that violation.
During another inspection in 2016 where OSHA found 5 initial violations, Kapstone was required to pay more than $28,000 as a penalty.
In 2018, WestRock Company acquired Kapstone, so now WestRock owns the North Charleston paper mill.
No one from Palmetto Industrial Services, Thompson Industrial Services or WestRock has responded to requests for a comment on the lawsuit.