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Pipes that caused fatal gas release at mushroom farm destined to fail

An RCMP officer and an unknown official talk in front of tent containing manure at a mushroom farm in Langley, B.C., on Sept. 6, 2008, after three people were overcome by an unknown substance and died and three were seriously injured.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The piping system that caused a fatal release of gas at a Langley, B.C., mushroom farm was destined to fail from the beginning, a coroners' inquest has heard.

Dirk Kerkhoff, a contractor for BuildWorks, told the inquest into the deaths of three workers that "a lot of things didn't make sense" about the system.

Mr. Kerkhoff said Monday that the pumps and other equipment were placed where water was supposed to collect, leaving the pumps under water when the system overflowed.

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Within three months of operation the system started to overflow.

The pumps were later moved to higher ground, where they would freeze in the winter, requiring a shed to be built.

That shed created the confined space where the workers were killed by a gas release on Sept. 5, 2008.

"For the life of us, we could not understand how [the piping system]was supposed to function," said Mr. Kerkhoff.

But Mr. Kerkhoff's firm was not responsible for installing the piping system, only for installing the water tanks and constructing the composting buildings.

According to Mr. Kerkhoff, the farm's general manager, D'Arcy Ashe, told him to mind his own business.

"We questioned it, and he basically told us to butt out," Mr. Kerkhoff told the inquest.

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Kerkhoff testified that better housekeeping could have easily prevented the chronic clogs plaguing the piping system.

Instead, straw and other composting materials were constantly swept into drainage trenches and never cleared out, he said.

The workers, Ut Tran, Jimmy Chan and Ham Pham, were trying to clear a clog on the day they were killed.

The inquest has heard that toxic gas had built up into the system over days and was released when workers opened a pipe and started to break up the blockage.

Mr. Kerkhoff also told the inquest that Mr. Ashe started the composting facility with full knowledge he was lacking a final inspection and occupancy permit.

"They started to operate without a permit, and they knew it," said Mr. Kerkhoff.

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He said that Mr. Ashe felt farmers didn't need to worry about occupancy permits.

The Township of Langley spent two years trying to shut down the mushroom farm before the deaths.

The inquest heard earlier that the township had worked out an agreement with the farm's lawyers to shut down the facility on Sept. 6, 2008, one day after the fatal release of gas.

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