Death in the Air
Author’s note: The accounts given here are taken directly from written testimonies, medical records and interviews with phosphate fertiliser workers. This story has been updated from the original that appeared in the 1998 Suncoast ECO Report and is included here in memory of Jesse Nash, who died of cancer in the Summer of 2001..
“Last night, I spent twelve hours in bed. I’ve been up for two. My blood pressure is under control (50 milligrams-a-day). I can finally breathe (prescription nasal inhaler daily). The Prozac (20 milligrams daily) has just kicked in. So far, I have only taken two aspirins for the joint pain and headaches: it’s just a few minutes past noon. I have a quarter-size bruise on my left biceps; I have no recollection of an injury. As each hour passes, my muscles are wasting away. Sometimes, I don’t think that I’ll see the light of another day. The doctors say, ‘There’s no known cause, no known cure; you’ll just have to learn to live with it.’”
In a slow drawling voice, Jesse, a former employee of Occidental Chemical Corporation told me how he and his work colleagues became sick. He wryly recalled having ignored the early-warning signs that something was terribly wrong. He had worked at the plant for thirteen years.
“At times, the atmosphere at the Occidental complex was thick with acid mists. Secretaries’ panty-hose dissolved off their legs – can you believe that? The fumes etched car windows and pitted the paint. In their fancy offices seven miles from the factory, the bosses said, `There is nothing to worry about. The chemicals are harmless; they are just harmless vapours.’ Management gave the secretaries a dollar a day to buy new panty-hose and paid for replacing car windows and new paint jobs.
“Joe Crosby, the supervisor who recommended me for a permanent job, died in 1979. He was about forty years old. I heard that his lungs were shot,” said Jesse. “There was another fellow, Buck White. They hired Buck from the same temporary crew as me. Ol’ Buck developed cancer, and one night, he blew his brains out in a guard shack. Now that I look back, I should have figured that something was wrong around there; it seemed like people were sick and dying all the time. I should have known that something wasn’t right about that place.”
During the course of several interviews, Jesse painted bleak pictures of life at the plant. “The first safety tip ever given me was in 1979 when a fellow said, `Don’t step in puddles because they might not be water.’ After two months and two pairs of shoes, I determined that he was dead serious. In the sulphuric acid storage area, there was a large brick-lined sump for transferring the acid. Over the years, so much acid was spilled in that area that the ground was totally saturated with sulphuric. When the acid percolated down and hit the aquifer or lime rock, a reaction would take place that pushed the earth up. We called it ‘heaving.’ The heaving was so bad in that area, it pushed huge pumps and the sump right out of the ground. Eventually, we dug out the sump and moved it to another area.
“There was a crack in the ground from heaving.
“We called it `The Saint Andreas Fault.’ The crack was about one hundred feet long and a couple of feet wide. One day, the bosses decided to fill the crack with concrete. It looked like a big wedge that kept sinking into the ground as the sulphuric acid dissolved the concrete. After that, they ordered us to dig out the whole area, but we never did reach uncontaminated earth. We just dumped tons of lime in the hole and covered it up.
“At the South loading area, the heaving was the worst I had ever seen. It was so bad that trains got derailed in the yard because the heaving twisted, busted or bent the rails. Overhead, even ten-inch steel beams got bent and twisted from heaving. When the ground heaved the wrong way, acid drained away from the sump area, spilled over, ate through the walls and saturated the ground. They called in contractors to clean up. They dug down six feet into the ground but syrupy, black acid was still oozing from the earth.
“The areas were so damned contaminated with sulphuric acid that every time it rained the pH meters in the freshwater ditches went off and triggered red flashing lights. These incidents were happening all over the complex. And all the waters in those ditches eventually flow into the Suwannee River, y’know?”
Jesse and several of his colleagues insisted that they had been poisoned while working at Occidental Chemical Corporation’s phosphate fertiliser factories in Hamilton County, Florida. They filed a toxic tort lawsuit for damages against the Corporation.
Gary O. Pittman, the driving force and main spokes-person for the former Occidental employees, contacted me in 1997 after reading several of my articles about fluorine pollution in the phosphate fertiliser industry. That conversation was the start of a successful working relationship and an enduring friendship.
Asked how the group of workers came together, Gary said, “Well, I knew Clinton because he was a lab tech who did analyses on my product for twenty years. As for Jesse, we worked together as shift supervisors in evaporation and purification for about a year. I’d stop at the gas station, run into Jesse or Clinton, and we’d talk. I’d ask Jesse or Clinton how they were doing, y’know? And they’d say that they had just been to the doctor.
“Slowly, it dawned on all of us that we had the same health problems. I asked about other workers at Occidental and Jesse told me about employees who were sick or dying. It was common to hear about people with brain cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, leukaemia, bone cancer, and other health problems such as toxic brain syndrome or heart attacks.”
Gary persuaded Jesse, Billy Baldwin, Clinton Vann and Karen Hobby, the wife of Bobby Hobby who died of bone cancer, to speak with me. For others, the experience was too painful to discuss and, fearing intimidation, they refused to be quoted, even when offered anonymity. Nevertheless, all of them stated that when the years of chemical exposure took its toll on their health, Occidental dispensed with their services. Gary was the only member of the group who received Company health benefits.
Gary spent his working life at Occidental Chemical Corporation’s phosphoric acid factories in Hamilton County, Florida. In 1972, he was eighteen years old and in excellent health when he started work in the analytical laboratory of the Corporation’s Suwannee River Plant. He rose from being a $4,000-a-year laboratory sample-man to becoming supervisor of one third of Occidental’s Swift Creek phosphoric acid complex, earning about $50,000 a year in 1993, when he became unable to work.
Gary’s written reports revealed a very disturbing picture. He listed toxic substances to which Occidental employees were exposed. Many of these toxics are on the Superfund Priority List of hazardous substances that pose the most significant threat to human health. Nevertheless, the Corporation’s attorneys said that their toxicologists declared that none of the chemicals used at the factory could cause harm to anyone.
According to employee testimonies, working conditions rivalled those of severely depressed third world countries. Gary said, “When I first started working for Occidental, safety considerations were non-existent. The only things they required us to wear were safety glasses. Gloves, respirators and dust masks were not furnished.
“I remember one time when I was assigned the task of cleaning the filter hood on the pollution scrubber. Powdery fluorosilicate dust was everywhere. As we were cleaning, the dust covered us. It was very hot – 100 to 120 degrees – and we were sweating profusely. When the fluorosilicate dust got mixed with the perspiration, it formed acid on the skin and blistered us if we didn’t wash it off in time. We were breathing those dusts, too. They didn’t give us respirators.
“Going home after one episode in the pollution scrubber, I was coughing and choking. My eyes started to burn and I realised that my clothes were fuming. The fumes became so thick that I had to roll the window down in my truck so I could see to drive. When I got home, I removed my clothes and gave them to my wife to wash. Well, the only things that came out of the washing machine intact were the zipper and a couple of buttons.
“It was common to develop acid sores, rashes and blisters after those jobs. It was also common to cough up blood after breathing the fluorosilicates and other fumes in the pollution scrubbers.”
Silicon tetrafluoride is a highly toxic fluoride com-pound. A case cited in the Toxicological Properties of Inorganic Fluorine Compounds discusses the autopsy on a man who died from several minutes of exposure to concentrated fluorosilicate fumes at a phosphate fertiliser plant. The autopsy revealed a coating of silica dioxide on the lungs. The cause of death, however, was given as fluorine poisoning.
For Gary, the chemical exposures reached a critical mass after twenty-one years of working under those conditions. His wife, Gloria, said, “On February 9, 1993, Gary came home from work early. He was sick, vomiting and had an unbearable headache. Later that night, he was coughing up blood. He thought it was a virus, but no one else in the family had any symptoms.
“The next morning, I went into labour with our third child. Still, sick, poor Gary had to take me to the hospital. While I was giving birth to James, Gary was trying to survive in the waiting room. When he came in to see me and James, he looked like death. He didn’t want to go home, but I told him I would be all right. I worried that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the house. I thought he was going to die on the way home.
“Our doctor said that Gary had a muscle-destructive process and there was nothing he could do except refer him to a specialist. We went to the specialist with medical records in hand. After reviewing the results of Gary’s blood tests, the specialist said that a muscle biopsy had to be done the same day. He said we couldn’t wait because Gary was on the verge of death. The results confirmed that Gary had auto-immune disease and polymyositis (simultaneous inflammation of many muscles). The doctor said that if he could get the isoenzyme levels down, he could get the muscle disease under control. The only problem was that Gary would never be the same.”
As time passed, Gary’s condition worsened. Gloria said, “There were times when his feet and lower legs would swell so bad, Gary was bedridden for weeks at a time. The pain was intolerable. I remember hearing him talk to himself late at night and in the early morning. The only way he could go to the bathroom was by dragging himself across the floor. When he was that bad off, I would load the wheel-chair into the car. Gary’s seventy-three year old father helped me carry him to the car and we drove to Gainesville. By the time we arrived at the doctor’s office, Gary told me that his feet were so swollen that he couldn’t feel the pain anymore. Sometimes, it looked as though his feet were about to rot off. They gave Gary steroids and pain killers.”
Occidental sold the mines and chemical complexes to Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, PCS, in 1995, but daily exposures to sulphur oxides and fluorosilicates finally caught up with Jesse in 1996. There was more than a touch of anger and bitterness in Joann Nash’s voice as she recalled Jesse’s last day at Occidental. “Back in June of 1996, after he had used all his vacation time visiting the Dallas Environmental Health Center for toxicological testing, we finally found that Jesse’s health problems were caused by chemical poisoning.
“He called the company and they told him to go out to the plant for a meeting with the human resources people. The meeting was held in a conference room where the group had been eating watermelon. They never bothered cleaning the mess from the con-ference room table where they sat to discuss Jesse’s problem. I couldn’t believe it. Jesse was so sure that the company was going to take care of him and help him get the proper treatment. All they offered Jesse was unpaid medical leave.”
Billy Baldwin’s wife, Charlotte, spoke of his last day working for Occidental. “Billy was sick at his stomach, had headaches and was as white as a ghost. I tried to talk him into going to a doctor but he told me that if he took time off from work he would lose his job. When I came home from work November 13, 1993, Billy said that he couldn’t take it anymore; he needed to see a doctor. I rushed him to the emergency room. He was immediately admitted for severe anaemia and stayed there for three days. The doctors at Lakeshore Hospital in Lake City, Florida ran a blood test and bone marrow biopsy. They said they couldn’t find anything wrong with Billy.
“Billy’s doctor prescribed a course of vitamin B12 and folic acid once a day for a year. When I went to get the medicine the pharmacist immediately asked who wrote the prescription. Then I asked what was wrong and the pharmacist said that athletes didn’t take that much vitamin B12 and he would have to verify the prescription with the doctor.
“After two weeks on B12, Billy wasn’t getting any better. His white blood cell count was rising. We were told to see a doctor in Gainesville, Florida.
The doctor examined him and had blood drawn. After waiting several hours, he called us in and asked Billy how he managed to walk into the office with such a low red blood cell count.
“The doctor told me to take Billy to North Florida Hospital and be admitted. They gave him a trans-fusion of three units of blood and did a bone marrow biopsy. He said the results would take a few days. I answered the call from the hospital and handed Billy the telephone. The doctor told him to come to his office at nine the next morning because they needed to talk. I took the telephone and asked what was wrong. Reluctantly, the doctor told me that Billy had the leukaemia, the worst type. It broke my heart, but I never told Billy. I waited for the doctor to tell Billy because I couldn’t bear to tell him such bad news.”
Karen, the wife of Bobby Hobby, recalled his last days working at the phosphate complex: “In April 1996, we had an automobile accident. Two weeks later, Bobby’s back began to hurt him. There were times he couldn’t get up, but somehow he continued to work. Bobby finally went to his primary care doctor, who found only a few slipped disks. Eventually, he went to see a neurologist who found a broken vertebra. Because of the accident, the neurologist ordered a MRI scan. Still believing the injury was from the accident, he told us it was possible that the vertebra was broken and needed alignment.
“Two weeks later, we went back to the neurologist. We were not prepared for what he had to say. They had discovered a tumour inside the bone and that is what caused the break. The doctor referred us to a specialist. After the consultation, Bobby was admit-ted into the hospital for a bone biopsy. They did a battery of tests including the bone biopsy; the diagnosis was Multiple Myeloma. The survival rate was about 2-3 years, and there was no cure.”
Bobby Hobby died in January 1998, leaving Karen to bring up their three children alone.
Clinton Vann, a former laboratory technician with Occidental for twenty-six years, said, “In 1990, my health problems began to worsen and I was diag-nosed with muscular dystrophy. This diagnosis was confirmed by three doctors in spite of previous medical records stating that I had suffered with idiosyncratic chemical hepatitis. My condition continued to deteriorate until I was totally disabled in 1993.”
Despite the men’s histories of chemical exposures to carbon tetrachloride, barium chlorides, hydrogen fluoride, fluorosilicates, sulphates, potassium cyanide, chemical solvents and other damaging neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals, doctors treating these Occidental employees never once considered chemical exposure as a factor.
Early misdiagnoses by doctors included degenerative muscle disease, possible AIDS, Lyme disease, lupus, muscular dystrophy, and `non-specific myopathy’ (meaning that they did not know what was causing the health problems). When Gary suggested that he might be suffering from chemical poisoning, a local doctor advised him that it would not be in his best interest “to open that barrel of worms.” Another doctor warned Gary that if he pursued the issue he would be “blackballed” from ever finding employ-ment in the industry again.
Gary said, “Almost everyone at the phosphoric acid complex seemed to stay sick all the time. It was as if they had a cold or the flu. Victims took over-the-counter medications in the forlorn hope that they could keep on working. The old-timers called it chemical pneumonia.” He named many people with heart arrhythmia and symptoms of toxic brain syndrome. He spoke about Occidental employees who developed stomach cancers, lung cancers, leukaemia, benign brain tumours and bone and brain cancers. Several victims with brain cancers have died.
Jesse’s story was substantiated by Gary. “During the year I supervised a crew in the evaporation/ purification area. Like most of the other workers,
I seemed to stay sick all the time. We worked in caustic fumes pouring off the hot acids. So many of us developed respiratory infections that some thought it was caused by a virus in the air. We went around the plant armed with cans of disinfectant and sprayed telephones, walls and air-conditioning ducts. During that year, I developed serious ear infections, near constant upper respiratory tract infection and sebaceous cysts that had to be removed from my hand.”
Frustrated by their doctors’ reluctance to acknow-ledge the potential of chemical poisoning, Gary, Jesse and Clinton Vann began to research the toxic substances related to phosphoric acid production. After years of surfing the internet and reading toxicological handbooks, they finally discovered that the primary pollutants affecting them were airborne fluorosilicates and sulphur oxides.
Gary said, “When I typed the physical problem and fluorides or sulphides into the search engine, they matched up with everything from memory loss to muscle degeneration. However, we were exposed to many different toxic chemicals, and they all played a role, probably acting synergistically. But the two primary pollutants were sulphur oxides and fluorosilicates.”
Airborne fluorides are highly reactive when exposed to moisture. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Minerals and Inorganic Chemicals Group, Emission Standards Division, considers airborne fluorides from phosphoric acid manufacturing as the primary pollutants of concern. According to the monograph for fluorine in CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, all fluoride compounds are toxic to a greater or lesser degree.
Fluoride is a generic term for fluorine when bound with another element. When inhaled, many of the resulting fluoride salts react with water (for example, in moist lung tissue), breaking down into hydrofluoric acid and whatever other component with which it was bound. The hydrofluoric acid burns a hole in the lung tissue, leaving the accompanying toxic substance at the damage site. It can be likened to rubbing dirt into a wound or injecting a poison. When the same fluoride salt is airborne, it can act to enhance or potentiate the effect of a toxic component.
Hydrofluoric acid is the most corrosive acid known to science. It causes the most dangerous of all chemical burns because of its high corrosivity and toxicity. A nominal amount of hydrofluoric acid splashed onto the skin will burn through soft tissues to the bone, where it is neutralised by the calcium contained in bone. According to industrial safety manuals, the treatment of hydrofluoric acid burns is a complex procedure requiring the injection of solutions of calcium chloride into and about the affected areas.
Dr. Phyllis Mullenix, pioneer researcher into the neurotoxic effects of sodium fluoride, said that when toxic fluoride compounds are inhaled “it is like giving them running shoes.” These compounds enter the system and do even more damage than by ingestion alone. She also noted that workers at aluminium smelting plants in Washington State are suffering with similar health problems from exposure to fluorine gases. The workers have initiated a toxic tort suit against their employers.
During a telephone conversation with this author, Dr. William Marcus, toxicologist and senior science advisor at the EPA, opined that the environment at Occidental phosphoric acid complexes probably also generates fluorine dioxide. “Fluorine dioxide, in my estimation, is comparable to nerve agents like Sarin or VX, or as close as you can come to one.”
Gary and his work colleagues were required to work in the noxious atmosphere without adequate safety gear. He explained: “In making phosphoric acid, phosphate rock is dumped into a 93% solution of sulphuric acid. The reaction produces silicon tetra-fluoride gas, laced with other contaminants. When the gas meets water it creates fluorosilicic acid.
“Other fluorine fumes we breathed were uranium hexafluoride, radon hexafluoride and many other types of metal-complexed fluoride fumes created during the acid reaction process. We were also exposed to the gases, vapors and fumes while cleaning tanks, pipes, etc. Solid fluorosilicates and fluoride gases saturated the work areas. Respirators and personal protection equipment were not required or freely given to us, back then. Respirators wouldn’t have done much because they will not filter fluorine and other gases.”
Recalling a major spill, Jesse said, “I was supervising a crew of day labourers who had never been in a chemical plant. Fibrecast pipes crossing overhead bridges blew out and spewed thousands of gallons of hot, syrupy acid which splashed onto the ground. Choking on the fumes and with only knee boots for protection, we waded into the hot phosphoric acid. Iremember dumping countless fifty pound bags of lime to neutralise the acid while choking on the fumes.”
Toxicological data on hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide state that the compounds are extremely toxic to humans. Several case studies on the adverse effects of hydrogen sulphide are cited in Patty’s Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology. The data indicated that exposures cause neuro-psychological dysfunction characterised by impairment of memory, psychomotor and perceptual abilities in individuals exposed to hydrogen sulphide. Heart and respiratory problems are also noted in studies. Evidence suggests that sulphur oxides may act as possible carcinogens or co-carcinogens. The toxicological data mirrored the physical problems listed in the phosphate workers’ affidavits.
“Exposure to sulphur fumes was the norm. Regular leaks from sulphuric acid plants engulfed us in clouds of sulphur dioxide,” said Jesse. “On days when the sulphuric acid plants were being maintained and repaired, they vented the reddish sulphur dioxide fumes directly into the air. I’ve seen whole flocks of birds just drop dead out of the sky when they flew over the sulphuric plant. We cautioned our people to stay inside and out of the smoke as much as possible.”
Billy Baldwin recalled, “Occidental float crews were given no special protective gear like clothes, dust masks or respirators. Close to the chemical plant or washer, the plant waste water was mixed in with all the phosphate acid wastes, mud and water that we were working in. Sometimes, we would be up to our waists in it for the whole shift. It smelled of chemicals and stagnant water. It was a stinking blue-grey slime with an oily slick floating on top of it.
“I remember going into the Swift Creek complex and seeing catfish laying belly-up in the ditches with blisters on their bellies and backs. We hardly ever saw any birds or animals around the ponds. Occasionally, animals would drink at one of the evaporation ponds; they’d flop around and die in a short time. Nothing much lived around those ponds. The trees and plants were all burnt and dead from the acid fumes.”
In 1987, Occidental management decided to shut down a pollution scrubber at the plant because it was “not needed.” For almost three years afterwards, they operated the facility with the pollution scrubber shut down in order to save money, breaking state regulations and in felony violation of the Clean Air Act. The entire population of Hamilton County was exposed to toxic emissions from the plant, at possibly many times the levels considered to be safe. The workers were exposed to much higher levels than the average citizen.
Occidental were fined by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for releasing ten times the permitted levels of fluorides into the air.
Workers’ depositions and accounts stated that Occidental routinely cheated on cooling stack emis-sion tests because OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and FDEP were required to give the company notice of inspections. “As far as inspections went, they were a joke,” said Gary. “Occidental was always given notice of when OSHA or the FDEP were coming to do inspections. It was common practice to clean the pollution scrubbers when we were notified of an inspection. Most of the time, the fluorosilicate build-up was so bad that we had to beat the pipes with hammers to break out the silica crystals. Management made us shut off the pipes carrying fumes into the scrubber, and we ran a defluorinated animal feed supplement, Polyphos, into the reactors to cut back on emissions. We were also told to run fresh water through the scrubbers, instead of the usual run of evaporation pond water, because the fresh water absorbs more of the pollution.
“When the FDEP or OSHA inspectors ran a test for cooling stack emissions, it came out looking good. I don’t think the inspectors ever knew that Occidental was cheating on those tests – or they didn’t care. The FDEP allowed Occidental to be self policing.”
Gary’s account was corroborated by Jesse Nash, who worked at the Swift Creek complex during the time the pollution scrubber was shut down. He said, “One of the workers told me that the pollution scrubber was shut down on the west side of the filter building. During the year I worked at the phosphoric acid plant, I never saw anyone attempt to put the pollution scrubber into operation.”
Recalling preparations for an inspection, Gary said, “The FDEP always notified the management prior to visiting the facility to do cooling stack tests for pollution emissions. Occidental management ordered a crew of mechanics to remove the spray bars and drag them out onto the street. We had to beat the pipes with nine-pound sledge-hammers to break the solids loose. It was also common practice to pull the scrubber pads onto the street and drive trucks over them to break the solidified fluorosilicates loose. All the nozzles were plugged and had to be cleaned or replaced. Nothing could have passed through them. Somehow, we managed to get the pollution scrub-ber operational by the time inspectors showed up.”
In a deathbed deposition, Bobby Hobby told attorneys how Occidental management ordered workers to shut down pipes that carried airborne pollutants from tank farms and other processes into the pollution scrubbers to ensure that Occidental plants passed emissions tests. His deposition also revealed that sick and dying cattle were rounded up by Occidental employees during the night and driven away in Company trucks.
Commenting on Bobby Hobby’s deposition, Jesse said, “Bobby Hobby was a long-term Oxy (Occidental) employee. We took Bobby’s deposition on video-tape at the hospital shortly before he died of multiple myeloma. He spoke clearly of stuffing fume ducts to the pollution scrubber with female sanitary napkins and routing piping so that fresh water went into the scrubber wash-water instead of the usual polluted, evaporation pond water. They used fresh well water so that more pollutants could be absorbed and the emissions test could be passed. After the emission tests were passed and docu-mented, work crews re-routed the piping and removed the sanitary napkins from the fume ducts. It was back to polluting as usual at the Oxy plants.
“To me, the most damning evidence was when Bobby described the `midnight cattle drive.’ I had heard rumours about it, but I never was an eyewitness. Oxy had an accident which was never reported. The caustic fumes damaged the roofs on nearby homes, damaged crops, and harmed livestock. According to Bobby’s deposition, the workers on his shift were sworn to secrecy. Under cover of darkness, supervisors ordered the crew to load the sick and dying cattle onto trucks and relocate them to an undisclosed destination. The caustic fumes had dissolved the hair off some cattle.”
The complaint submitted by two Jacksonville law firms representing the workers stated: “Not only did the Defendants fail to provide adequate and operational ventilation, but also, to further reduce costs, the Defendants, even on occasion when the toxic fume stacks were fully operational, simply turned them off to further reduce costs.” This suggested that the surrounding populations were also exposed to high levels of airborne toxic chemicals.
Asked about the per capita cancer rate in Hamilton County, Gary replied: “I read in the newspaper that studies were done in Hamilton County, and they showed that Hamilton County has the highest cancer rate in Florida. Columbia and Suwannee Counties also have very high cancer rates compared to other counties in Florida. Those counties are right next to Hamilton. For me, the article rang a bell because I wondered, why here? Hamilton County is a rural, farming county. You would expect the air to be less contaminated. The overall environment is cleaner. You would think the people would be healthier than in the big cities. The only thing around here that is different is the presence of the Occidental Chemical Company.
“I wonder whether the water we are drinking is contaminated with chemicals from the leaking gypsum stacks,” Gary mused. “I worry about the air quality because it’s a fact that these chemicals travel great distances and other times, under different weather conditions, they settle over the community. All these things concern me. Now that I know how dangerous some of those chemicals are, I’m concerned for the whole country because some companies sell the pollution scrubber liquor to fluoridate drinking water.”
Today, about half the cities in the United States use the waste fluorosilicic acid to fluoridate drinking water and more than 150,000,000 people are directly exposed to the pollution scrubber liquor in this way. Tudor Davis, Office of Drinking Water Admini-strator at USEPA wrote in a 1995 letter that no clinical studies using the pollution scrubber liquor have been undertaken. The EPA’s assumption that the pollution scrubber liquor is safe is based on animal research using a pharmaceutical grade of sodium fluoride. The USEPA openly acknowledges that there are no federal safety standards for any water treatment chemicals.
Florida phosphate rock and pebble contain up to 300 parts per million of Uranium-238 and its decay rate products. This may account for the higher cancer rates affecting people living in those areas, since most scientists agree that there is no safe level of exposure to radioactive substances and that long term low-level exposure can cause cancers.
One of the plaintiff workers at Occidental was Artie Johnson, a mother bringing up three young children alone. Artie worked at the plant for about ten years with Gary as her supervisor. “Artie was a great worker and extremely intelligent,” he said. “Now, she wanders around in a befuddled state. She doesn’t even recognise her children and recently she was institutionalised. Her elderly mother is bringing up the kids. Artie can’t speak for herself so we’ll damn-well do it for her.”
Reflecting on his twenty-one years in the phosphate fertiliser industry, Gary said, “I thought about reporting the illegal emissions to FDEP, OSHA and the EPA. I didn’t, because you don’t want to report things to the people who already know what’s going on. They know people are sick and dying because of Occidental. If they were really concerned and cared about the public and workers, they would have done something about Occidental a long time ago.”
In 1998, Gary, Jesse and Billy Baldwin reported the Clean Air Act violations to USEPA Criminal Investigations Division. The leading EPA investigator told the workers that an investigation was underway and that they would be interviewed. Four months later, the investigator claimed that he did not remember Gary’s name or anything about an investigation. When pressed by a very angry Gary, the investigator admitted that the case had been assigned to the EPA office in Jacksonville, Florida.
Even FDEP investigators intimated to Gary that an investigation was imminent. However, when Jesse telephoned the FDEP they, too, claimed that they had no recollection of Gary. They advised Jesse to file a complaint with the EPA. When Jesse notified Gary that there was no record of their case, Gary said, ”Well, is that a cover-up, or what? Looks like they want to bury the case along with us.”
According to the workers and their spouses, data and tissue samples were “lost” from hospitals. Jesse related, “One disabled worker I know had severe testicular problems. One night, he was in so much pain, he went to the emergency room and begged the doctors to remove an inflamed testicle and send it to the laboratory for toxicological testing. The doctors obliged. Later, when he inquired about the tests, they said his testicle was lost somewhere between the laboratory and the hospital. A similar mishap befell Karen Hobby after Bobby died. Tissue test results were “lost” by the hospital.
With a sardonic laugh, Jesse said, “Sometimes, I ponder over the fate of that testicle and the lost paper work. Perhaps, somewhere in a dumpster or landfill is an enlarged, inflamed, surgically removed testicle wrapped in Bobby Hobby’s toxicology report. Maybe, like the ‘sock monster’ that resides in every washer-dryer, our support group has a testicle-and-tissue-snatching gremlin lurking in the hospital corridors?”
Gary remembered the elation of attorneys at the prospect of suing Occidental. “In 1997, we sat in the plush conference room of a high-powered, prestigious Jacksonville law firm. Representatives from another top Jacksonville law firm were there, too. We laid our cases out with accompanying documentation. I recall the top lawyer placing his finger beside his nose, sniffing, and saying, ‘I smell money.’ Now, it’s like we’re rotten garbage and they can’t wait to dump us,” he said.
Toward the end of a long series of interviews, Gary said: “I’m damn glad I’m not going to live to be a thousand-years old. The way we are ruining the environment and poisoning everything, our great grandchildren and future generations are going to hate us. If we lived that long, they would probably have us put in prison or worse for ruining their world. When their children are born with deformities or sickly, they are going to curse us for being so thoughtless. I know that we are going to be hated by future generations and I don’t blame them.
I wouldn’t blame them for spitting on our graves. I don’t want my great grandchildren and future generations to think of me in that light. I want them to know that I tried to do something to change things. That’s why I am speaking out and why I want you to write it down.”
POSTSCRIPT, April 2001.
Hamilton County was written in 1998 and hurriedly published on the internet in raw, unedited form, to avoid a possible injunction from the defendants.
By 2000, Gary’s health had deteriorated dramati-cally. Concerned for the future well-being of his wife and children, he agreed to a substantial out of court settlement from Occidental. His concern for the welfare of his former colleagues remains. “The cases of the other workers, including that of Artie Johnson, have still to be settled,” he said. “I want to live to see that day.”
The case of Gary Owen Pittman v. Occidental Chemical Corporation now involves 300 workers and residents in Hamilton and surrounding Counties.
It is being actively pursued.
1. Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene, B. Plog, G. Benjamin, M. Kerwin, 1988, National Safety Council.
2. Methods Used and Adopted by the Association of Florida Phosphate Chemists, Seventh Edition, 1991.
3. Report to Congress on Special Wastes from Mineral Process – Summary and Findings, Methods and Analyses, USEPA, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service, July 1990.
4. Phosphoric Acid Waste Dialogue, Report on Phosphoric Wastes Dialogue Committee, Activities and Recommendations, September 1995; Southeast Negotiation Network, Prepared by Gregory Borne.
5. Denzinger, H.F., König, H.J., Krüger, G.E., Fluorine recovery in the fertiliser industry – a review, Phosphorus & Potassium, no. 103, Sept/Oct. 1979.
6. The Geology of Florida, University Press of Florida, 1997, pp. 141-144, 247-249.
7. Sinkholes and stacks, U.S. News & World Report, June 12, 1995, pp.53-56.
8. AWWA Standard For Fluorosilicic Acid, B703_94, AWWA Standard for Sodium Fluoride, Sodium Fluorosilicate, and Potassium Fluorosilicate B703-94, American Water Works Association 1994; Also see: AWWA Standard For Hydrofluosilicic Acid, B703_89.
9. Correspondence from Joseph A. Cotruvo, Office of Drinking Water, USEPA to G.G. England, Aug. 12, 1986 (re the presence of radionuclides in fluorosilicic acid).
10. Correspondence from Thomas Reeves, National Fluoridation Engineer, USPHS to George Glasser, February 25, 1998 (regarding presence of radionuclides in fluorosilicic acid).
11. LCI, Ltd., Hydrofluosilicic Acid Specifications, H2SiF6, Commercial Grade, Oct., 1990.
12. Wastes bypass federal regulation despite radioactivity, Gunter, B., Kennedy, M., Tampa Tribune, 21 July 1991.
13. Gaseous Fluoride Emissions From Gypsum Settling and Cooling Ponds, Howard E. Moore, Florida Scientist, vol 50, Spring 1987, pages 65-78.
14. Evaluation of Analytical Methods for Fluorine in Biological and Related Materials, P. Venkateswarlu, P., Jour. of Dental Research, Feb, 1990, Vol. 69.
15. Patty’s Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology, 1993, Fourth Edition, Vol. 2, Part A, G.D. Claton, F.E., Claton, John Willey & Sons, Inc. Includes: Aluminum, Arsenic, Benzene, Cyanide, Phosphate, Silica, Sulphur compounds.
16. The Concept of Direct and Indirect Neurotoxicity and the Concept of Toxic Metal/Essential Element Interactions as a Common Biomechanism Underlying Metal Toxicity, Chapter 5, vol 1; Chapter 11; Silver Impregnation of Organophosphorus-Induced Delayed Neuropathy in the Central Nervous System, Chapter 12, The Vulnerable Brain and Environmental Risks, vol. 2, eds. Robert Isaacson & Karl F. Jenson. New York; Plenum Press, 1994.
17. Neurotoxicity of Sodium Fluoride in Rats, Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 1995, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 169-177; Mullenix, P.J., Denbesten, P.K., Schunior, A., and Kernan, W.J.
18. Chronic administration of Aluminum-Fluoride or Sodium Fluoride to rats in drinking water: alterations in neuronal and cerebrovascular integrity, Brain Research, 16 Feb. 1998, Vol. 84, Nos. 1-2, J. Varner, K. Jensen, W. Horvath, R. Isaacson.
19. CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 1996-97, The Chemical Rubber Co. (Fluorine, Polonium, Radium, Radon and Uranium).
20. The Merck Index, An Encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals, Merck Research Laboratories, Merck & Co., Inc.
21. Occupational Diseases, A Guide to Their Recognition, 1977, U.S. Public Health Service (Has not been revised to date). Includes: Fluorine, Fluorides, Sulphur, Uranium & decay rate products, Vanadium, Aluminum, Lead, Aluminum, Arsenic, and most compounds and chemicals used in phosphoric acid production. Also includes safety guidelines.
22. Toxicological Profile for Fluorides, Hydrogen Fluoride, and Fluorine (F), USDHHS, USPHS, ATSDR, April 1993.
23. Fluoridation: The Great Dilemma, 1978, George L. Waldbott, M.D., Burgstahler, A., McKinney, G, Coronado Press, Inc, pg. 225 (Ervin Bellack).
24. Little, J.B., Radford, E.P., McCombs, H.L., and Hunt, V.R., Distribution of Polonium-210 In Pulmonary Tissue of Cigarette Smokers. The New England Jour. of Med., 272:25, Dec. 17, 1965.
25. Parsons, W.D., De Villiers, A.J., Bartlett, L.S., Becklake, M.R.: Lung cancer in fluorspar mining community. II. Prevalence of respiratory symptoms and disability. Br. J. Industr. Med.: 21:10, 1964.
26. Pharmacology and Toxicology of Uranium Compounds, C. Voegtlin, H. Hodge, McGraw-Hill, 1949.
27. Marier, J., Rose, D., Report for the National Research Council of Canada, 1977 (synergism of fluoride compounds).
28. Drinking Water and Health, National Academy of Sciences, 1977: Chapt. VII, Radioactivity in Drinking Water, pp. 857-903.
29. Toxic Properties of Inorganic Fluorine Compounds, R.Y. Eagers, 1969, Elsevier Pub. Co. NY.
30. C.H. Kick, Et Al, Fluorine in Animal Nutrition, Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin 558, Nov. 1935 (deals with phosphate rock fed to farm animals and fluorosilicates).
31. Air Pollutants Affecting the Performance of Domestic Animals, Agricultural Handbook No. 380, Robert J. Lillie, 1970, US Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare.
32. Air Pollutants Affecting the Performance of Domestic Animals, Agricultural Hand Book No. 380, Robert J. Lillie, U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture, 1970/
33. State trusts chemical plants to ensure radiation safety, Tampa Tribune, July 25, 1991 (article mentions Occidental as shipping 111,000 pounds of scrap metal without performing test to see if radiation levels were too high; the steel could not be tracked down).
34. Radon and decay rate products: See Seventh Annual Report on Carcinogens (PB95-109781, 1994) p. 65; Interim Protocols for Screening and Follow-up Radon and Radon Decay Rate Products Measurements (PB89-224265, EPA, 520/1-86-014-1, 1987) p. 22; and National Bureau of Standards Handbook, 69, 79 (1959).
35. Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products, N.M. Gleason. Et Al Eds. (Williams and Wilkins, Blatimor, 1969).
36. Toxicity of Industrial Metals, (Appleton-Century Crofts, New York, Second Edition, 1969).
37. Concepts of Inhalation Toxicology, R.O. McCellan, R.F. Henderson, Eds. Hemisphere Publishing Company, New York, 1989.
38. Also see Toxicological Profiles for Lead and Aluminum.
39. Farm Chemicals Handbook ’94, Meister Publishing Co.
40. Handbook of Toxicology, W.O. Negherbon, Saunders, Philadelphia, 1959.
41. Toxicology and Skin Corrosion Testing of Selected Hazardous Materials, (PB264-957) National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA, 1976.
42. Silica and Some Silicates, International Agency for International Cancer Research (IARC), Monographs on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risks of Chemicals to Humans, Vol. 42, 1987.
43. Ammonia, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., 1977.
44. Law of Toxic Torts, Michael Dore, 1994, Clark, Boardman, Callaghan, NY, NY.
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