Death of Carwasher Puts Industry on the Spot Again

C&P Car Wash employees held a vigil last night to remember “The Bull” and to demand an investigation on his death. (Photo via El Diario)

C&P Car Wash employees held a vigil last night to remember “The Bull” and to demand an investigation on his death. (Photo via El Diario)

He was nicknamed “The Bull” because of his robust and healthy constitution. However, on Jan. 31, William Alberto Castellano fainted at C&P Car Wash in the Bronx, where he worked for nine years. Although the El Salvador native was throwing up and complaining of a sharp pain, the management did not call an ambulance.

After his shift, the 36-year-old went back to his apartment, where he died alone. His body was not found until Feb. 2.

Castellano was apparently in good health, and his death raised concerns among workers, unions and activists. They are now asking the city and the state to investigate if the chemicals used in the car washing industry may have caused this death and illnesses reported by workers in the past.

“He did not mind working seven days to provide the best for his family. He was a very strong man,” said fellow carwasher José Linares, who worked with Castellano for five years. “He was always talking about going back to our country to meet his 10-year-old daughter. It pains us that this meeting will now happen with him in a coffin.” Castellano emigrated from El Salvador when his daughter was a newborn.

According to Rocío Valerio, labor director at New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Castellano lost consciousness on Sunday, Jan. 31 during his 12-hour shift. Other workers had insisted to the manager to call an ambulance but their pleas were ignored.

“The manager rubbed him with alcohol and gave him a cookie and juice to revive him,” said Linares, 45, also from El Salvador. “The poor guy was stumbling, and he spent about 15 minutes sitting on the floor. We felt so powerless for not being able to help him.”

Valerio said that when the deceased ended his shift, he went back to his apartment in the South Bronx by bus, still nauseous and weak. “It is unclear what caused his death. We don’t know how he passed his last hours,” said the car wash employee organizer.

Apparently, Castellano, who had no family in the city, was taken by his roommate to Lincoln Hospital. He spent four hours in the emergency room, but activists do not know what the diagnosis was.

El Diario attempted to obtain a reaction from his employers, unsuccessfully.

More questions than answers

Castellano was hoping to reunite this year with his wife and his daughter Allison Gómez in El Salvador. On Monday, he called his employer to ask for a one-week sick leave, which was granted but without pay. Because they had not heard from him, his coworkers went to his apartment, where they found him dead on the morning of Feb. 2.

Castellano’s roommate could not be reached for comment.

“There are many unanswered questions about what happened to William between the time he left his workplace and when his body was found,” said Valerio. “That is why we are asking the city and the state to look into every clue.”

C&P Car Wash workers said that Castellano had not complained of pain in the past. However, they said, the chemicals used in the industry are corrosive and they want to know if the toxins are associated with the carwasher’s death.

“Car wash workers are in contact with aggressive chemical products, and we want the corresponding agencies to investigate if those could affect their health,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

In a protest held last year in front of Vegas Auto Spa in Park Slope, several workers said that they had suffered from rashes, nose bleeding and respiratory problems, a series of conditions linked to the handling of powerful detergents and acids.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in August 2015 found new proof that chemical products frequently used in the car wash industry may be hazardous to workers.

The report, which focused on Washington State, pointed out that 48 employees evaluated between 2001 and 2013 suffered burns caused by hydrofluoric acid (HF), which is applied during the pre-wash stage. One case investigated by the CDC mentioned a 38-year-old worker who died after accidentally ingesting an amount of the substance.

“Exposure to hydrofluoric acid causes corrosive chemical burns and potentially fatal systemic toxicity,” states the CDC report.

Workers evaluated by the agency reported eye, head and hand burns while using the solution. The report states that 7 of the 48 employees observed were hospitalized and that two of them required surgery due to the burns.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Chemical poisoning suspected in the sudden death of a New York car wash worker - New York Personal Injury Attorneys Blog

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