27-year-old Western Sugar plant employee dies after exposure to hydrogen sulfide at eastern Colorado facility

The Western Sugar Cooperative vice president said workers were performing routine maintenance in a utility building when they were exposed to the gas.

MORGAN COUNTY, Colo. — An employee at an eastern Colorado sugar plant died, and five others were treated at a hospital after they were likely exposed to hydrogen sulfide, according to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff’s deputies and Fort Morgan volunteer firefighters responded to a call from the Western Sugar Co-Op at 18317 Highway 144 on Wednesday at 3:32 p.m. 

Western Sugar said four of their employees were impacted. They said one employee died in the hospital, two employees were treated and released from the hospital, and one was transported to a Front Range hospital for additional care. That employee is expected to be released from the hospital early next week, according to the company. The sheriff’s office said the two firefighters were treated at a hospital and were released. 

The sheriff said two Western Sugar employees were rescued from a confined space about 10 feet below the ground. Two Fort Morgan firefighters also suffered exposure to a hazardous material during the rescue operation. 

Tristan Teter, 27, from Brush, was identified as the worker who died by the Morgan County Coroner’s Office. The coroner said Teter’s autopsy results are pending investigation.

The Western Sugar Cooperative vice president said the workers were performing routine maintenance in a utility building when they were exposed to the gas.

“At this point in our investigation, we believe the affected employees were exposed to a build-up of naturally occurring hydrogen sulfide. The situation is contained, with no ongoing risk to our employees or the facility,” the company said in a statement. “We are mourning the loss of one of our maintenance team members and extend our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and colleagues.”

Signs on the doors at the company indicate they were closed Thursday.

Hydrogen sulfide gas is commonly found during the drilling and production of crude oil and natural gas and can be found in wastewater treatment and utility facilities and sewers, the sheriff’s office said. 

The sheriff’s office said the gas is produced by the microbial breakdown of organic materials in the absence of oxygen and noted it has a rotten egg smell. The production of H2S gas is a naturally, biologically occurring instance, the sheriff’s office said. According to the agency, there was no leak or release of the gas at the Western Sugar property. 

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