South Carolina authorities are investigating an unusual apparent workplace death at a plastics recycling facility, after finding tiny amounts of human remains around a shredding machine at Industrial Recovery & Recycling Inc. in Greer.
Reports in local newspapers said Duncan Alexander Burrell Gordon, 20, was working at the facility on an overnight shift in early May and was last seen on top of the shredder at the plant, which pelletizes recycled polypropylene and PET.
Now, a July 6 report from Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger said officials have identified the remains, found on a nearby conveyor after several examinations, as belonging to Gordon.
Authorities are saying little about the details of the rest of the investigation, which began as a missing person's case.
Clevenger said an investigation by his office confirmed human DNA material on a conveyer belt near the shredder.
Clevenger said his office was contacted June 10. He had both a forensic pathologist and forensic anthropologist examine the material, which was recovered by a detective with the Spartanburg County Sheriff's office.
"After both exams that required special processes to view, I can confirm the material is consistent with human fat, microscopically minute particles of skin and small pieces of bone," Clevenger said.
Both the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and local law enforcement said they're currently conducting their own investigations.
Clevenger said that a substantial amount of plastic was run through the machinery before authorities first inspected the equipment.
"What was recovered by the detective may be approximately 2 ounces," Clevenger said. "It was reported to the Sheriff's office that approx. 60,000 pounds of plastic material had been processed between the time Gordon was noticed missing and when the first investigator arrived to inspect the machine."
Jason Hoag, president of Industrial Recovery & Recycling Inc., declined to discuss the incident but said the plant’s owners would “probably be issuing a statement in the coming days.”
Other agencies are investigating.
A spokesman for Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said in an email that "it remains an active investigation by our agency."
As well, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which includes the state's OSHA, said its investigators are involved.
"S.C. OSHA opened an investigation on June 16th," Lesia Shannon Kudelka, spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email. "S.C. OSHA is investigating because the incident happened in a workplace.
IRR declined to comment.
Clevenger said both the company and investigators have examined the shredding machine at least four times.
The first was by Gordon's father, identified in media reports as Michael Gordon. The elder Gordon also worked at IRR, as a supervisor. The machine was restarted after his review, the statement said.
Later, Clevenger said, a patrol officer examined the machine after a missing person's report was filed, followed by a third review by investigators from the Sheriff's Office with dogs trained to find bodies.
"The third search was when the material found under the conveyor belt was recovered by a [detective] and was immediately tested by a presumptive testing module that tests for human blood vs. animal blood," he said.
It tested negative for human blood at the scene but was later hydrated in a lab and tested positive for human blood, he said.
At that point, on June 14, Clevenger said investigators from his office went to IRR and viewed the machine.
He said that without a body, his office cannot issue a conventional death certificate.
"State regulations require another remedy for the family to get closure because there is no body," Clevenger said. "The family has been made aware of the process."
Clevenger said his office has closed its investigation.
A 2017 OSHA investigation fined the company $500 for a violation of fall protection standards, and a 2012 OSHA review find the company $4,100 for several violations of confined space regulations.