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Hidden Dangers Are a Daily Part of Job for Trash Collectors

April 03, 1989|H.G. REZA | Times Staff Writer

"I was compacting (trash) when chlorine shot out of a container and hit me in the back. . . . It felt like my back was on fire, and I ran to a house, turned on the hose and put water on my back. I told somebody to call the paramedics and they came and watered me some more," said Llamas.

Llamas' brother, Joe, who has worked as a garbage collector 10 years, said "a lot of people don't have common sense."

"Last week, on my La Jolla route, somebody put hot fireplace ashes in the trash. When I dumped the can in the hopper, the back of my truck started to burn," said Joe Llamas.

Another collector who works out of the Central Facility at 20th and B streets has been given the title of "Cyanide Man," said Richard Burke, 35, and a 16-year veteran of garbage collection in San Diego. The 350-pound Burke, who is also Local 127's sergeant-at-arms, said that "Cyanide Man" picked up a load that included a container of liquid cyanide.

"The guy compacted the trash. When he turned around, he saw a little blue cloud forming in the hopper. He ran . . . . You know, they use that stuff to execute people," Burke said.

Hip, Knee and Leg Injuries

Local 127 President Garcia said the city's garbage collectors are treated by the same sports medicine clinic that treats injured San Diego Charger players. "We sustain the same injuries they do. But we do it every day of our lives, not just for a season," Garcia said.

Hernias, pulled muscles and back injuries are common to garbage collectors. But hip, knee and leg injuries are "what bring your career to an end," Garcia added. According to Garcia, a garbage collector can jump on and off a truck up to 1,200 times a day, putting extraordinary stress on a trash man's hips, knees and legs.

"Tell people that they can make our job safer by using common sense," said Joe Llamas. "Don't put anything in the trash that they wouldn't want to breathe or touch. And please, don't overload the cans or trash bags. We don't have to pick up anything over 50 pounds, but most of us do."

By law, homeowners are not allowed to include toxic substances like paint, paint thinner, engine oil or pesticides with household trash. Several garbage collectors said these items are usually hidden in the middle of the can.

"But sometimes trash men can tell when there's something in a can or bag that shouldn't be there," Holmes said. "Sometimes all you have to do is turn around and look at the house. If you see someone peeking through the blinds you know there's something in the trash can that shouldn't be there. . . . But too often you don't know about the paint thinner and motor oil until you pack the truck."

Homeowners can dispose of toxic substances by calling the county's hazardous-waste pickup office at 236-2267.

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