A former employee at a San Diego County specialty food company said his supervisor ordered him to dump chemicals in public drain.
Marcos Estes, an ex-janitor at Fresh Creative Foods in Vista, told NBC 7 Investigates he shot video of the July 15 incident on his cellphone.
His boss allegedly ordered him and his co-workers to dump the partial contents of 75 chemical containers in a drain at the company’s warehouse on Birch Street. Estes said he had no training in chemicals or waste disposal.
“At the time, I didn't realize how dangerous the chemicals were," Estes told NBC 7 Investigates.
He said those chemicals burned his skin, damaged his lungs and harmed a co-worker who helped him get rid of the substances. Estes started recording the dumping when he realized the chemicals could injure people and were a danger to the environment.
"This stuff got inside the gloves, inside my boots, and burned my hands, burned my feet and my knee, my back and my shoulder,” he said.
Dr. Fred Garces, a chemistry professor at San Diego Miramar College, told NBC 7 that two of the chemicals Estes said he helped dump can create a dangerous chlorine gas when mixed and diluted with water.
"In bulk, you generate a lot of that gas. It can easily overcome somebody and render them really helpless," Garces said.
According to the professor, the chemicals listed on the labels stuck to the barrels in Estes’ video — including Boost 32, Quorum Yellow 2 and alkaline cleaners and acids — are not dangerous when used properly to clean food-making equipment.
But Garces said mixing them together and flushing them down a public drain can harm humans, as well as kill fish and other wildlife.
"Oh yes, I would be very concerned,” he said. “That's why they have these companies that can take it and treat it properly and dispose of it properly."
Estes told NBC 7 investigates that besides the burns, he also developed joint pain and lung damage.
“I felt like my lungs had been stretched out, like I’d been running a thousand miles,” he said.
Medical experts confirmed those injuries at a workers’ compensation medical clinic, according to Estes. A month after his exposure to the chemicals, Estes’ hands are still swollen.
NBC 7 Investigates has confirmed that the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health and the District Attorney's office are investigating the alleged dumping.
On Thursday, Aug. 13, local attorney Dan Gilleon filed a lawsuit on Estes’ behalf against the parent company of Fresh Creative Foods, the staffing company that hired Estes and sent him to work at the company, and the supervisor who allegedly directed Estes to dump to the chemicals.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ actions harmed Estes.
“He wasn't given any training,” said Gilleon. “He wasn't given any protective gear. It wasn't even his job."
The lawsuit also alleges Estes was fired without cause when he reported back to work after getting medical treatment. According to Gilleon, the company fired him because they feared he would become a whistleblower.
A spokeswoman for Fresh Creative Foods said, "While I am unable comment on this ongoing investigation, I can tell you that employee safety is paramount at Fresh Creative Foods."
The owner of the staffing company that hired Estes, Express Services in Carlsbad, said he's investigating the allegations but doesn’t have sufficient information to comment on Estes’ allegations or the lawsuit.