Police identified the victims as Shlomo Dahan, 49, and Harel Dahan, 23, both of Brooklyn, and Rene Francisco Rivas, 52, of Queens.
Dahan family friend Abe Rosenthal arrived at the privately owned site in Queens with a rabbi after learning of Monday afternoon's accident. He said Shlomo Dahan owned a sewer company and his son worked with him.
"I can't believe what happened," Rosenthal said. "He was the sweetest guy, a good father."
Dahan and his son were cleaning out a dry well that collects construction water and waste from the transfer station, where garbage is sorted for recycling. The entrance to the dry well is through a manhole that's 3 feet wide and leads to a catch basin 18 feet deep.
The workers apparently were overcome by hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas common in wells like the one being cleaned, said John Sudnik, fire department deputy assistant chief of the Queens borough command. The medical examiner will determine what caused their deaths.
The gas is created by water and decomposing garbage. About 100 parts per million of the gas in the air is considered very dangerous, and Sudnik said crews were recording readings at the scene of 200 parts per million.
He said the workers were subcontractors at the Royal Waste Services transfer station, which is attached to the Regal Recycling company. A man who answered the phone there had no immediate comment.
Emergency crews were called around 2:30 p.m. Monday and were on the scene seven minutes later. The workers were dead by the time rescuers reached them, Sudnik said. It took about 20 minutes to pull their bodies from the well.
The transfer station is in an industrial area, with a gravel road leading to the facility, not far from a Long Island Rail Road station. The stench of garbage permeates the area. A sign saying "putrescible solid waste" and another that says "No drums, asbestos, hazardous materials, medical waste or tires" hang at the gate.
NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS