Teen falls into vat of toxic chemical, dies

Investigators are looking for answers after a local man fell into a vat of sulfuric acid and died at a circuit-board manufacturing warehouse.

The San Mateo County Coroner’s Office identified the man as 18-year-old Fernando Jiminez Gonzalez, Deputy Coroner Richard Vetterli. Although an autopsy was performed on Gonzalez on Sunday, the Coroner’s Office did not expect to release the cause of his death until today.

Gonzalez’s father reported the death after finding his son inside the Coastal Circuits warehouse, located at 1602 Tacoma Way, early Sunday morning, according to Redwood City police Sgt. Steve Dowden. Both men work for the company.

Police believe that, while submerging circuit boards into a large vat of sulfuric acid, Gonzalez became “overcome by chemical fumes, causing him to fall forward into the vat,” Dowden said.

Sulfuric acid, a corrosive liquid found in car batteries and a variety of industrial factories, is used to remove rust from metal — and etch circuit boards. Even in its most dilute forms, the acid can cause burns on the skin and mucous membranes; ingesting it can be fatal, according to a fact sheet from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances.

Gonzalez’s death is believed to be accidental, Redwood City police Detective Eric Stasiak said. If the Coroner’s Office finds any evidence of foul play, the Police Department will reopen its investigation into the case.

Coastal Circuits, a 35-year-old company that moved to Redwood City in 1992, produces custom circuit boards used to test other electronic devices, such as the semiconductors in computer chips, CEO Laura Boozer said.

Boozer would not comment on the incident, adding that the firm will conduct its own investigation once officials learn exactly how Gonzalez died. “Our thoughts are with the family — many of them work with us,” Boozer said. “This is a very tragic situation. We’re trying to get [information], for the sake of the family and our employees.”

Gonzalez worked for Coastal Circuits for “several years,” Boozer said.

The California Department of Occupational Safety and Health will begin interviewing Coastal Circuits employees this morning to determine what may have led to Gonzalez’s death, an OSHA investigator said.

Findings could be available in four to six weeks, but OSHA has up to six months to complete its investigation.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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