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Canadian Farm Workers Deaths Attributed to Suffocation

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The coroner has ruled that the two Jamaican farm workers who lost their lives recently on a Canadian farm, died as a result of "environmental suffocation".

Thirty-six-year old Ralston Whyte from Pike, Manchester, and 44-year-old Paul Roach from Preddie, Clarendon, were killed on Friday, September 10, when they were overcome by fumes in a tank which was processing cider vinegar on the Filsinger's Organic Foods farm where they were both employed.

In an interview with JIS News, one of the owners of the farm, Deb Becker, expressed deep sadness at what happened to the two workers.

"Ralston and Paul were good workers and very honest men. We have a small community here of about 400 persons and they were known by everyone," she said.

Mr. Roach started in the Farm Work Programme in 2004 and Mr. Whyte in 2003. From the beginning they have been working with Filsinger's Organic Foods, an orchard farm which produces sweet apple cider, apple cider vinegar, apple butter and apple sauce.

In recounting the accident, Ms. Becker said Mr. Roach, Mr. Whyte and a third Jamaican worker, Robert Samuels, were pumping about six inches of cider vinegar from one tank into another when the pump stopped working, possibly clogged by the "mother of vinegar" that had settled at the bottom. The "mother of vinegar" is a sludgy substance that develops on fermenting alcoholic liquids.

One of the workers climbed inside the tank, apparently to clear the blockage, and was overcome by fumes. The second worker went to assist and he too was overcome by the fumes.

"That smell is so strong. The first worker should not have gone inside the tank. I can understand the second one going in after seeing his friend collapse. They knew they should not go in the tank but just take out the pump, wash it off and put it back inside the tank," said Ms. Becker.

A memorial service was held on the farm for the two workers on Tuesday, September 14. It was attended by about 170 persons from the community. Ms. Becker and her two sons, Cory and Sean Becker, own the farm jointly with Brandon Weber.

She said the Jamaican men were well liked and Mr. Weber had visited Jamaica last winter and met their families. The other Jamaican worker, Mr. Samuels, will not be returning home until December.

Ms. Becker said members of the Victim Services Unit were brought in to counsel him, and he was the one who had asked that a memorial service be held.

Chief Liaison Officer at the Jamaica Liaison Service (JLS) in Ontario, Larkland Stone, said the bodies should be ready to be returned to Jamaica by next week Wednesday.

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