Texas Injured Workers Group Disputes Formosa Plastics’ Claim of No Significant Health and Environmental Impacts

Posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 12:06 pm by dpacheco

Formosa Plastics has agreed to pay $13 million dollars as part of an EPA settlement over pollution violations. More than $10 million will be spent “on pollution controls to address air, water, and hazardous waste violations”, along with a $2.8 million civil penalty to be paid “to resolve violations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act” (PlasticsNews.com).

In spite of the settlement, Formosa vice president Randy Smith claims that the PVC facility in Point Comfort, Texas has had “no significant environmental and health impacts.” Injured Workers United of Calhoun County, Texas begs to differ. Their personal experience working inside the plant paints a far less rosy picture. They sent out the following press release:

Texas Injured Workers Group Disputes Formosa Plastics’ Claim of No Significant Health and Environmental Impacts After $13 Million EPA Findings

Calhoun County, Texas…Injured Workers United of Calhoun County, Texas recently filed letters with OSHA, EPA, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) stating their concerns over Formosa vice president’s, Randy Smith, claim that the PVC facility in Point Comfort, Texas has had “no significant environmental and health impacts” in spite of the extensive violations and infractions cited by the EPA in their recent $13 Million Consent Decree against Formosa Plastics Corporation in Texas and Louisiana.

The injured workers group consists of current and former workers—some of whom have worked at the Formosa Plastics, Texas facility since its start up in l981, some of whom are whistleblowers– who came together in 2009 to support each other through disabilities, illnesses, financial hard times, and the experience of working under a company that, they believed, showed a high disregard for its workers, community, and the environment.

According to the recent $13 Million Consent Decree in September 29, 2009, EPA investigators at the Formosa Plastics facility in Point Comfort, Texas found extensive Clear Air Act leak detection and repair violations, including failure to properly monitor leaking components (500 in one unit), failure to include chemical manufacturing equipment in its leak detection and repair program, and failure to timely repair leaking equipment. The inspectors also found “extensive” leak detection and repair violation, as well as other hazardous waste violations at the site and wastewater discharge violations.

The injured workers group cited their own working experience within the facility. One worker was involved in Formosa’s daily logging of vinyl chloride leaks. He said the leaks ranged from 1.2 to 7 to 13 to 35 to 177 to 987 to 2,053 parts per million (ppm) and this for every hour of every day of every year of the 20+years that he worked there. . Another worker’s last act at Formosa was after he was told to falsify a four-ton vinyl chloride release that the company later reported as less than 3 pounds to the EPA. Vinyl chloride is a potent carcinogenic that targets the liver, brain, lungs, blood forming organs, and is linked to neurological damage. OSHA requires that a worker not be exposed to vinyl chloride over 1ppm averaged over any 8-hour period.

The Injured Workers’ safety committee jointly stated, “We believe that Formosa’s sloppy environmental record can only mean that their occupational record is also suspect. We, ourselves, are proof of it. Many of us have documented thrombocytosis, neurological damage, cognitive impairment, and severe peripheral neuropathy that can only be treated by a surgically implanted pump that delivers painkillers 24/7. One member of our group has a friend in his unit that died from brain cancer. Another worker that sniffed the leaking valves and flanges died of angiosarcoma, liver cancer. A number of workers have developed knots on their heads and have been told by friends to get a biopsy, but they haven’t. They are afraid they will be diagnosed with brain cancer.”

In January, 2009, the science journal Exotoxicity, published a report by scientists at Texas A&M that revealed changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage in cattle as far as six miles downwind of Formosa. Wesley Bissett, lead study author and veterinarian at Texas A&M College of Veterinarian Medicine, said the cattle with the DNA damage were “orientated around the Formosa facility, with the highest damage occurring with those nearby and those downwind.”

In October 15, 2009, the EPA will conduct a meeting in Calhoun County regarding Formosa’s extensive ethylene dichloride (EDC) contamination that has forced closure of a nearby state rest area on Highway 35, buy-out of subsequent nearby property, burying of ‘questionable area’ under five foot of soil, and contamination of the groundwater and nearby Cox Creek in the thousands part per million. The safety of local water wells is unsure at this time and the EPA is testing wells within a five-mile radius of the facility.

In November 21, 2009 in Berlin, Germany, the Ethecon Foundation will award Formosa Plastics’ Taiwan founders and corporate executives the international Black Planet Award for their destructive policies towards the planet Earth.

The Injured Workers United group is currently working with scientists from Tulane University Health Science Center, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to address their health concerns.

The group stated, “The hospitals in Taiwan call the worker illnesses related to Formosa the ‘Formosa Syndrome’. We have the same problem here in Texas.”

Photo: istockphoto.com

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