A 3-year-old who died after falling into a grease trap outside a Tim Hortons restaurant in Rochester, New York, is bringing attention to the dangers of these oil, fat and grease-filled pits and the need for inspections and safety features to prevent similar tragedies from happening.
The toddler was first reported missing before being found in the grease trap. Responders performed CPR but failed to revive him. The trap was embedded in the ground and covered with a plastic lid that laid flush to the ground. Crews replaced the lid with a sturdier metal one. Obviously, the plastic lid wasn’t secure enough to prevent the young child from falling into the trap.
City Hall officials and other agencies placed blame on Monroe County. Jesse Sleezer, a spokesperson with the county, responded during a news conference. “If any agency would have been responsible for the ongoing inspection or monitoring of this grease trap, we are certain it was not the county,” he said. “We are not certain who that was – if it should have been anyone. The versions of the regulations that appear someplace online are not correct.”
In the 1960s, county sewer regulations required grease traps for oil, fat, grease or sand, and that they needed to be of “substantial construction” with removable covers that, when bolted, are both watertight and gastight. But when the codes were amended in 1988 and again in 2015, references to grease pits were not included. The state has regulations regarding grease traps, but none reference the covers.
Sleezer said the onus falls on the city, town or village to inspect and monitor the gas traps. He said Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo planned to submit and pass legislation to address regulation of grease traps.
Two days after the boy’s death, WHAM News 13 reported that legislation has been drafted in Albany, New York, to prevent future tragedies. The legislation, proposed by local State Assembly members Harry Bronson and Jamie Romeo, would require that grease trap covers must be made of metal instead of plastic; covers must be rated for a heavy level of traffic; covers must be bolted or locked when unattended; signs or other warnings must be displayed in the area of the grease trap; and grease traps must be inspected annually.
In April 2018, the State of Alabama passed a law requiring grease trap covers to include locking mechanisms and to be strong enough to withstand the weight of a vehicle without caving in or popping open. The law was named after Sadie Grace Andrews, who in October 2017 died after falling into a grease pit outside an ice cream shop in Auburn.
The law went into effect June 1, 2018, and gave restaurants and other commercial food establishments until December 2018 to comply.
The Alabama Department of Public Health is charged with implementing rules for compliance, and department health inspectors have begun checking to see if establishments meet the requirements as part of their routine inspections. Those found lacking face a $100 fine each day they are out of compliance. At least one local municipality in Alabama, Mobile, has also approved a local fine – $100 a day – in addition to the state-levied fines. Local health department officials explained that it gives added strength to the new regulation and helps encourage compliance.
Now, Sadie Grace’s mom, Corrie Andrews is fighting to bring more awareness to the issue and to put Sadie’s Law into practice nationwide. She finds it unconscionable that children and others continue to die or suffer serious injuries as a result of grease traps that are not properly secured.