Artie Johnson is a young African American woman, the mother of three children. She worked for Occidental in the superphosphoric acid evaporation plant at the Swift Creek Chemical Complex for almost nine-years. She is a plaintiff in the toxic tort lawsuit, but she is unable to speak for herself because of chemical induced neurotoxic damage form working at Occidental Chemical Corporation. Artie and her three children live with her mother, Eartha Coffee, who works, raises the children and tends to Artie’s needs.
Artie is an enigma. Gary Pittman who was her supervisor speaks highly of her as an intelligent young woman, good person and excellent employee. As Pittman puts it, “Artie was like one of the boys, and a better employee than many. She worked hard and seldom complained. I was impressed with her from the first day she came to work.” Gary speaks of Artie in the past tense, because she is not the same bright, charming person he once knew.
One can only imagine the poignancy of her story, because she suffers with Alzheimer’s disease-like memory loss and confusion among other health problems. Today, Artie Johnson basically exists in a void while most women are watching their children grow-up, or have some sort of life. It would seem that even a life of hardship would be better than that of utter confusion and not remembering who you are at times.
It is most commendable that the plaintiffs in the toxic tort lawsuit chose to include Artie Johnson and become a collective voice for someone who can no longer speak for herself as with the two deceased plaintiffs, Bobby Hobby and Roy Mathis.
Gary Pittman, Clinton Vann, Jesse Nash, Billy Baldwin, Bobby Brown, their wives and families have stepped forth to speak for those who are afraid, and those who can no longer speak for themselves: Artie Johnson represents those people in the toxic tort lawsuit against Occidental Chemical Corporation.
Section 15(a) of the complaint filed against Occidental Chemical Corporation best sums-up the attitude of elite Occidental management toward employees at the chemical complexes: “The Defendants knew that toxic substances were present in virtually every area of the plant, except for the area which was occupied by management personnel, which was seven miles from the areas and complexes where workers such where Plaintiffs would work.”
In beginning this story, I thought about the format. Having read many journalistic endeavors on various subjects, I always found it difficult to maintain interest because of the dry objective style. Reviewing the accounts of the workers, wives and families, I felt that each individual had a story. I was communicating with the experts, the people who had been through good times and bad times. The technical aspects were well covered by the workers; I was an outsider looking in. It would have been presumptuous and arrogant to play the role of the objective journalist. Consequently, I thought it best to compile and edit the individual accounts. They are living the stories and I am not.
The accounts I read were home spun and rough edged, but they came from the heart. Work histories and depositions were intensely professional, and the workers insisted that technical details be correct down to whether a pipe diameter was 18 or 24 inches. The wives of the men exhibited courage and compassion. Wives of the men who are still alive oddly spoke of their husbands in the past tense.
Artie Johnson’s mother even speaks of her daughter in the past tense. Everyone who worked with Artie spoke kindly about the young mother of three children. Artie suffers with toxic brain syndrome and cannot speak for herself.
When Gary Pittman called, I thought he was another person wanting advice. However, Gary was different; he was gritty and down to earth. We shared a few chemical accident stories and got down to business. I liked Gary right off the bat. Gary didn’t want advice. Gary called to thank me for writing an article about the phosphate industry. Gary and his friends were suffering from chemical poisoning. They had worked for Occidental Chemical Corporation in Hamilton County, Florida. Now they were disabled, out of work and looking for answers. Two people in the group had died of cancers and the rest were suffering from debilitating health conditions.
Living on the edge of the Bone Valley phosphate region of West Central Florida, I knew much of what Gary was talking about, but I had never heard the real story from an inside source. I had always depended on bits and pieces of information extracted from studies, books and articles about the phosphate fertilizer industry. People who worked in the industry were reluctant to offer information about the inner workings. Phosphate fertilizer corporations rule the roost in Florida. Most employees are loyal to the companies because they offer good wages in primarily rural, agricultural communities where the only other options are picking tomatoes or working at the convenience store.
Florida phosphate mines produce 30% of the world supply and 75% of the U.S. supply of phosphate fertilizers, upwards of 20-30 million tons per year. Much of the nation’s supply of fluorosilicic acid used as a water fluoridation agent is also produced in Florida from pollution scrubbing operations. Phosphate fertilizer suppliers have more than $10 billion invested in production facilities and mining operations in Florida alone. In Florida, phosphate fertilizer production accounts for $300 million in wages, directly employs about 8,000 people and supporting industries employ an estimated 50,000 people.
In spite of this impressive resume, for many of us living in the phosphate producing regions of Florida, Saddam Hussein would be regarded as a better neighbor than the phosphate fertilizer industry.
Phosphate fertilizer is made from phosphoric acid. The chemical complexes produce phosphoric acid by mixing sulfuric acid with finely ground phosphate ore slurry. The process releases primarily, highly toxic silicon tetra fluoride vapors laced with heavy metals, radionuclides, sulfur dioxide, etc. The complexes also produce the sulfuric acid creating highly toxic sulfur dioxide gas.
All the public relations firms they hire and all the politicians they buy do not change the dirty reality of the business. Much of the phosphate producing regions of Florida are toxic waste dumps for phosphate fertilizer manufacturers. In West Central Florida, the sixty by thirty mile strip ends at Tampa Bay is called “the hot zone” by people who are environmentally aware.
For people living in these “hot zones,” the incidence of osteoblastic leukemia and lung cancer is twice the state average. As a state, Florida has a higher per-capita incidence of cancer than most states.
For every 1400 tons of phosphoric acid, 7,000 tons of waste gypsum is produced leaving barren, radioactive mountains of acidic phosphogyspum wastes. These gypsum stacks are contaminated with toxic fluorides, radionuclides, heavy metals, and sulphates. The stacks will stand for millennia as toxic monuments to the phosphate fertilizer industry.
Asinkhole, 100 feet in diameter and three or four hundred feet deep dumped millions of tons of radioactive, phosphogyspum wastes into the Central Florida aquifer.
One spill in 1997 from a settling pond atop a gypsum stack killed most of the fish in the Alifia River, outside of Tampa, Florida.
Toxic wastewater evaporates in the searing Florida sun. Hydrogen fluoride is released with other contaminants. According to an article in the Florida Scientist, 1987, by Dr. Howard Moore (deceased), a series of reactions takes place between suspended solids and hydrogen fluoride in the presence of moisture. The reactions create pollutants that can be carried far from the ponds on air currents (possibly hundreds of miles from the site). A company in Manatee County, Florida had so contaminated the air, they had to buy the air rights around the facility.
Abandoned strip mines filled with murky, lime green radioactive water dots the phosphate producing regions of Florida.
Lifeless evaporation ponds holding up to 500 million gallons of toxic, radioactive waste water surround production facilities. In one year, more than one billion gallons of the toxic wastewater spilled into Florida water ways.
Developers build homes on reclaimed mines, or the land is pasture for cattle to graze. Ambient radon levels are very high.
The radioactive phosphogyspum waste has been used to make road beds.
Runoffs from the operations contaminate the waterways and the bays of Florida.
Dustsconsisting of radionuclides, sulphates and fluorides contaminate the air surrounding the phosphate fertilizer chemical complexes.
Radium wastes from the filtration systems are among the most radioactive types of NORM wastes (naturally occurring radioactive material). The radium wastes are so concentrated, they cannot be disposed of at the one landfill in the United States licensed to accept NORM wastes.The federal government has no rules for its disposal: The manufacturers bury the radioactive wastes in the gypsum stacks.
All of the above poses significant sources of potentially carcinogenic radioactive and fluorine pollution. Yet, Florida has neglected to establish laws governing the pollution generated from these sources except requiring liners for new gypsum stacks. The USEPA is reluctant to act, and nothing is being done to protect people or the environment from the pollution.
The phosphate fertilizer is basically exempt from federal regulations. In 1980, the U.S. Congress passed Solid Wastes Disposal Act Amendments (commonly called the Bevill Amendment) to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Bevill Amendment exempted certain wastes, byproduct phosphogyspum and waste water from the wet process phosphoric acid production.
Basically, all the companies have to do with the toxic, acidic waste water is adjust the pH to 7.0 and they can dump the toxic water into the rivers and bays.
Before 1970, pollution from phosphate fertilizer manufacture was a major environmental problem in West Central Florida: May 14, 1970, Death of A Bay, St. Petersburg Independent: “BRADENTON– The specialists agreed yesterday – Bishop Harbor’s illness is terminal . . . The fluorides are the final executioners for harbor life. For once the plant life is gone, with it goes the breeding grounds for new generations of marine life. And Bishop Harbor was a nursery for marine life, a mother for Tampa Bay’s fish.”
During the late 1960′s, fluorine emissions were damaging crops, killing tropical fish, destroying the environment and causing crippling skeletal fluorosis in livestock. USEPA became concerned and enforced regulations requiring manufacturers to install pollution scrubbers. At that time, the facilities were dumping the concentrated, acidic pollution directly into waterways leading into the waterways and stacks were belching highly acidic, slightly radioactive pollution into the atmosphere.
While reading this, a person may think that the problem is regional and does not pertain to anyone living outside the phosphate producing regions of Florida. However, that is not the case. In the late 1960′s, Ervin Bellack, USEPA chemist and a manufacturing representative put their heads together and worked out the ideal solution to a monumental pollution problem. The recovered phosphate fertilizer manufacturing pollution contained about 19% fluorine. The concentrated pollution “scrubber liquor” was perfect to use as a water fluoridation agent. It was a liquid and easily soluble in water unlike sodium fluoride (the waste product from aluminum manufacturers). It was also inexpensive, and there was a glut of the concentrated toxic waste.
Fate also intervened. The aluminum industry who previously supplied sodium fluoride for water fluoridation was facing a shortage of fluorspar used in smelting aluminum. They began to recover fluorine and make synthetic fluorspar. Consequently, there was a shortage of sodium fluoride to fluoridate drinking water. Ervin Bellack and the industry seized the opportunity to fill the gap in the market and dump the new source of recovered pollution into America’s drinking water.
For the phosphate fertilizer industry, the shortage of sodium fluoride was the key to turning red ink into black and an environmental liability into a perceived asset. The concentrated pollution could be dispersed into drinking water throughout the United States, one drop at a time. With the help of the USEPA and Ervin Bellack, fluorosilicic acid was not regarded as concentrated toxic waste anymore, a liability. It became “FLUORIDE, the proven cavity fighter.”
USEPA and U.S. Public Health Service waived all testing procedures and expedited the disposal of the radioactive concentrate into America’s drinking water as “New and Improved FLUORIDE.”
Immediately, without any oversight, clinical or safety studies, the U.S. Public Health Service and American Dental Association encouraged cities to use the pollution concentrate for drinking water fluoridation.
1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) opened the door for USEPA to work with industry and actively find markets for recovered pollutants such as fluorosilicic acid.
By 1983 the official USEPA policy was: “In regard to the use of fluosilicic (fluorosilicic) acid as a source of fluoride for fluoridation, this agency regards such use as an ideal environmental solution to a long-standing problem. By recovering by-product fluosilicic acid from fertilizer manufacturing, water and air pollution are minimized, and water utilities have a lowcost source of fluoride available to the communities.” (Rebecca Hanmer, Deputy Administrator, Office of Water, USEPA, 1983 correspondence to Dr. Leslie Russell stated USEPA position on water fluoridation).
In promoting the use of the pollution concentrate as a fluoridation agent, the ADA, Federal agencies and manufacturers failed to mention that it was hot, radioactive. Uranium and all of its decay rate products are found in the raw phosphate rock, fluorosilicic acid and in the phosphate fertilizer. Before 1991, upwards to 75% of the U.S. supply of uranium oxide to fuel the nuclear industry was produced in Central Florida. However, today, uranium is not extracted because of economic reasons.
During the wet process manufacturing trace amounts of uranium and its decay rate products are released and captured in the pollution scrubber. As long as the amount of contaminants added to the drinking water (including radionuclides in fluorosilicic acid) do not exceed the limits set forth in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has no regulatory problem with the use of any contaminated products for drinking water treatment.
While uranium and radium found in fluorosilicic acid are known carcinogens, two decay rate products of uranium are even more dangerous and carcinogenic: Radon-222 and Polonium-210.
During the acidulation process that creates phosphoric acid, radon (a gas) contained in the phosphate pebble can be released in greater proportions than other decay rate products (radionuclides) and carried over into the fluorosilicic acid. Polonium may also be captured in greater quantities during scrubbing operations because like radon it is easily soluble in acid and can readily combine with fluoride.
USEPA is responsible for regulating radionuclide levels in the air and drinking water; consequently, they are aware that Radon-222 decays into Lead-210 in 3.86 days. The lead isotope does not give off harmful alpha radiation for twenty years until it turns into Polonium-210 (beta radiation is also harmful). Unless someone knew to look for specific isotopes, no one would know that a transmutation to the extremely radioactive Polonium-210 occurs.
Polonium-210 may be the most insidious and most significant health threat in the pollution concentrate. Polonium gives off intense alpha radiation for 138 days until it turns into regular lead and becomes stable. During the 138-day period, a very small amount can be very dangerous.
The lead-210 isotope behaves like calcium in the body. It may lay stored in the bone or body tissues for up to twenty years before it explodes like a carcinogenic, time released nuclear devices as polonium-210.
The fluoridated water someone drinks today, may be the cause of cancer twenty years down the road. No one knows what the consequences of using the pollution concentrate because there has never been any clinical research done with the product.
One particle of polonium-210 gives off 5,000 times more alpha radiation than the same amount of radium. Damage occurs in the body from complete tissue absorption of the energy of the alpha particle. Scientists say that polonium-210 can be carcinogenic to people if exposed to more than 0.03 microcuries (6.8 trillionths of a gram).
Scientists write 6.8 trillionths of a gram as 6.8 x10-12g because it would appear as 0.0000000000068 grams. Figures like that are hard to grasp to the average person, but they show that polonium is harmful to humans in very minute amounts.
Use of the pollution concentrate to fluoridate drinking water places one at risk continuously. Drinking water fluoridated with fluorosilicic acid contains radon at every sequence of its decay to polonium. Also, the fresher the batch of pollution concentrate, the more polonium it will contain. The more water fluoridated with the pollution concentrate someone consumes, the better the chances of developing cancer. It all boils down to the luck of the draw. It all depends on how much is stored in the body and in what tissue.
Not only does the fluorosilicic acid contain the contaminants inherent to the phosphate rock/pebble, but additives used during production. The pollution scrubbers are not selective with regards to washing the fumes. The quality of the product also depends on whether recycled evaporation pond water is used. Sludge from sulfuric and phosphoric acid production are dumped into the evaporation ponds atop the gypsum stacks. The radioactive scale is buried there. If a thirsty bird or raccoon ventures to the evaporation pond out of thirst, it is their last drink.
There are many factors involved in the creation of the fluorosilicic acid that are very alarming. It contains many other chemicals, organic and inorganic. During the concentration process, these chemicals are boiled off the acid in a partial vacuum at very high temperatures, equal to about 500 degrees F. The chemicals used are oil-based defoamers (possibly containing dioxins), polymers, petroleum products, naphthalene, chlorides, sulfides and various reagents. The vapors from all these chemicals are washed and captured in the pollution scrubbers along with the fluorine and fluorosilicate gases. Although it is more convenient for scientists to believe the pollution scrubbing is discriminate, it is not. One scrubber catches all, including pollution from tank farms and other processes.
About 6.8 milligrams of 23% fluorosilicic acid is added to the drinking water to achieve fluoridation at one part per million. The fluorosilicic acid is only the primary ingredient in a complex, highly toxic product. Because of the nature of creating the product, complex interactions have to occur during manufacture, e.g., heat, negative atmospheric pressure, catalyzing effects due to contact with metal vessels and additives. Of the 6.8 milligrams of product, 5.8 milligrams is contaminant laden water.
Today, 50% of all communities (about 100,000,000 people) in the United States fluoridating drinking water are exposed to the same toxic pollution that has cause so many health and environmental problems in Florida. After reading the following series of stories about the workers and their wives, one has to wonder about the sanity of using captured pollution to fluoridate drinking water.
‘DEATH IN THE AIR’
In the early predawn hours when the air is still and moist, phosphate fertilizer factories are often shrouded in an acidic haze. Temperature inversions form airy bubbles of noxious, acidic fumes. Lights from the factories seem to blaze through the hellish mist, and the lemony taste of sulfuric and hydrofluoric acid leaves the lips tingling with a slight burning sensation. Then the delicate tissues in the nostrils begin to tingle with a stinging sensation. Floating and sparkling in the still morning air, microscopic, acid droplets splash against the thin film of fluid protecting the eyes and subsequent burning and watering blur one’s vision. And finally, the full impact of inhaling the noxious smog causes choking and coughing. Sometimes, the misting hydrofluoric, fluorosilicic, phosphoric and sulfuric acids are so concentrated, they actually etch the windshields and eat the paint of cars passing through the acidic fog.
For those employed at the phosphoric acid factories, this is the work world they enter every day. Day-in and day-out, they eat, breath, and drink toxic pollution until they become too sick to work, or die.
Gary Owen Pittman was one of those people. While Gary and his coworkers worked midst the toxic, corrosive fumes, the corporate elite at Occidental Chemical Corporation sat safely in well-ventilated, air-conditioned offices some seven miles from the factory.
The emissions were so acidic at the plant, visiting secretaries complained of their panty hose being dissolved while on their legs. Reassuringly, management said they had come into contact with some chemicals, but there was nothing to worry about.
Gary’s first and last job was working for the Occidental Chemical Corporation phosphoric acid factories in Hamilton County, Florida. Gary Pittman was eighteen years-old and in excellent health when he started to work as a sample man in the analytical laboratory of the Occidental Chemical Corporation, Suwannee River Plant. He rose from a $4,000 sample man in the laboratory to supervising one third of Occidental’s Swift Creek plant, earning about $50,000 a year.
Today, Gary is unable to work and suffers from auto immune disorders, toxic myopathy, chronic obstructive lung diseases with emphysema, chronic bronchitis, blood disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, liver dysfunctions, polyarthritis, swelling of feet and lower legs, muscle weakness, cardiac arrhythmia, reactive depression, and memory loss. He walks with waddling gate and suffers dizziness: the diagnosis is toxic brain syndrome.
Gary is afraid to take his children to Disney World. He becomes too fatigued, his lower legs and feet begin to swell from walking, and may suffer an episode of cardiac arrhythmia. Emergency room records show repeated visits for irregular heart beat problems.
Gary Pittman does little these days except surf the Internet to learn more about the toxic effects of chemicals to which he and his coworkers were exposed. The list reads like the top forty toxic chemicals on Superfund Priority List of hazardous substances that pose the most significant threat to human health. The chemical exposures left him unable to work at the age of 39, and five years later, Gary Pittman finds difficulty in enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
The adverse environmental and health effects from phosphoric acid production are well documented in newspaper articles from the 1970′s, 80′s and into the 1990′s. But to the author’s knowledge, the USEPA and Centers for Disease Control (USCDC) have never commissioned any substantive studies.
USEPA New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) state: “The standard sets forth limits for total fluorides, the primary pollutant of concern, 40 C.FR., pgs. 60.200-60.204.” This issue is discussed in Phosphoric Acid Waste Dialogue, Report on Phosphoric Wastes Dialogue Committee, Activities and Recommendations, September 1995; Southeast Negotiation Network.
The insidious problem with airborne fluorides are that they can be very reactive when they come in contact with moisture. When inhaled, many fluoride salts react with water (moist lung tissue) and break down into hydrofluoric acid and the component. The hydrofluoric acid with the moist lung surface, burns a tiny hole in the tissue, and the toxic component is left at the site of damage. It is like rubbing dirt into a wound or injecting a poison. The airborne fluoride salt can act to enhance the effect of the toxicant component.
Dr. Phyllis Mullenix, pioneer researchers on the neurotoxic effects of fluorides, said when toxic fluoride compounds are inhaled, it is like giving them (fluoride compounds) “running shoes.” They enter the system uninhibited and can do more damage.
People living near phosphate fertilizer plants are twice as likely to develop lung cancer and osteoblastic leukemia. While high cancer rates for people living near phosphoric acid plants are noted in magazine and newspaper articles, little is ever said about workers and their families. If health problems are evident in people living near the phosphate plants, it is only logical that employees would be at a higher risk. The people who work at phosphoric acid plants are at ground zero. Workers have to go into acid reaction chambers filled with toxic fumes and scour scale from filters and walls.
The scale is so radioactive, up to 100,000 picocuries of radium per gram, that the only landfill in the country that accepts naturally occurring radioactive wastes will not accept the scale from phosphate fertilizer production. The radioactive wastes are either buried in the gypsum stacks or dumped into holding ponds.
Crystallized, radioactive silica tetra fluoride has to be chipped from pollution scrubbers. The residual is so hard that jack hammers must be used to remove the buildup. Workers are required to go into these hell holes and perform these dirty tasks, often without adequate safety equipment. Workers are not only exposed to the naturally occurring toxic substances, but also manmade chemicals used as reagents, defoamers (possibly containing dioxins) and flocculants to more efficiently produce phosphoric acid.
The fluorosilicic acid produced in pollution scrubbers is sold as a water fluoridation agent. More than 50% of U.S. cities which fluoridate drinking water use some form of the highly toxic pollution. Neither the USEPA nor U.S. Public Health Service can produce one safety or clinical study using the highly toxic pollution.
Sulfuric acid is also essential to phosphoric acid production. The plants produce their own sulfuric acid. The acid is mixed with finally ground phosphate rock producing noxious vapors containing heavy metals, sulfates, fluorosilicates, hydrogen fluoride and other contaminants. Uncontrolled releases of highly toxic hydrogen sulfide gas are commonplace, especially during unloading in the molten state.
Sulfur dioxide and trioxide are highly toxic. Flocks of birds flying into the clouds of sulfur dioxide emissions died in mid flight and fell to the earth over the Occidental’s sulfuric acid plants, according to accounts of interviewed workers. Current books on industrial toxicology link sulfur oxides as possible carcinogens or cocarcinogens. They cause respiratory problems, heart problems, etc.
Only recently has the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) required companies to place vinyl liners under phosphor-gypsum stacks. Because of airborne fluorine pollution, manufactures were forced by USEPA to install pollution scrubbers in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s. But, in Florida, it is common knowledge that the phosphate companies set the environmental ground rules, and the USEPA and FDEP tends to turn a blind eye regarding the violation of environmental regulations.
There is speculation that preferred treatment for phosphate fertilizer manufacturers started when the first atomic bombs were being developed. It was discovered that uranium-238 could be extracted from phosphate rock. During the post WW-II and Cold War eras, 75% of the uranium oxide used to produce nuclear weapons and fuel for the nuclear power industry came from several Florida phosphate fertilizer plants. Today, the laxity on the part of EPA in enforcing federal regulations is probably a leftover attitude from the days when phosphate fertilizer plants were a national security asset.
Although Occidental had to be aware of risks to employees, even in the mid-1960′s chemicals and contaminants associated with phosphoric and sulfuric acid production, the corporation chose to ignore the risks. During the 1980′s, OSHA and environmental laws were much stricter; however, Occidental became a contractor to supply the Soviet Union with phosphoric acid as part of the Armand Hammer trade agreement. It appears, that in order for Occidental to meet production requirements, federal regulatory agencies may have been lax in enforcing safety and environmental regulations.
Gary Pittman’s deposition for a lawsuit reads like a twenty-year sentence to hell. “When I first started working for Occidental, safety considerations were basically nonexistent. The only things we were required to wear were safety glasses.Gloves, respirators and dust masks were not furnished.
“I remember one incident when I was assigned the task of cleaning the filter hood and the pollution scrubber. Powdery fluorosilicate dust was everywhere. As we were cleaning, the fluorosilicate dust covered us, and it was very hot; we were sweating profusely. When the fluorosilicate dust mixed with the perspiration, it would form fluorosilicic acid on the skin and blister us if we did not wash it off.
“I remember going home after one episode in the pollution scrubber. I started coughing and choking. My eyes started to burn. I realized that my clothes were fuming. I rolled the window down in my truck so I could see to drive home. Reaching 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.”
Silicon tetra fluoride is a highly toxic fluoride compound. The autopsy on a man who died of several minutes exposure to concentrated fumes at a phosphate fertilizer plant revealed a coating of silica on the lungs. The cause of death, however, was determined to be fluorine poisoning. The fluorosilicates found in the pollution scrubbers contain heavy metals, radionuclides (including radium-226, radon-222 and uranium-238).
Gary also suffers with emphysema and has described classic symptoms of silicosis. In the phosphate industry, the older workers refer to the condition as “chemical pneumonia.”
Where employees are exposed to toxic substances, most manufacturers require employees to take urine tests for levels of chemical exposure. This is basic risk management procedure to protect the company against future lawsuits. In the twenty years working for Occidental, Gary had never taken a urine test, even when he became ill.
In 1987, according to Gary, Occidental management decided to shut down a pollution scrubber stating that it was not needed. For almost three years, in spite of violating state regulations and in felony violation of the Clean Air Act, Occidental operated the facility with the pollution scrubber shut down to save money. The entire population of Hamilton County, Florida was exposed to toxic emissions from the plant, possible many times what is considered safe levels. However, workers were exposed to higher levels than the average citizen.
In another incident, Occidental was fined for releasing ten times the safe levels of fluorides into the atmosphere. Over the years Gary worked for Occidental, he said that the company had been cited numerous times for OSHA and environmental violations.
By 1993, after almost twenty-one years of exposure to workplace toxicants, Gary was totally incapacitated. Suffering from degenerative muscle disease (toxic myopathy), heart arrhythmias, and emphysema, he was unable to walk up a flight of stairs and was replaced by Occidental management. He was never allowed the opportunity to try and return to work or offered another less taxing position.
None of the doctors treating Gary ever considered chemical exposure which included: Carbon tetrachloride, barium chlorides, hydrogen fluoride, fluorosilicates, sulfates, potassium cyanide, chemical solvents and many other damaging and carcinogenic chemicals. Early diagnoses included degenerative muscle disease, possible AIDS, Lyme disease, and non specific myopathy (meaning they did not know what was causing his problems).
Gary’s work history is littered with health problems and misdiagnoses by doctors who knew nothing about industrial exposure to toxic chemicals. With his numerous emergency room visits, the personnel should have put two and two together and called for toxicological testing. However, the tests were not done, not even a simple urine test. Gary’s medical profile is such that he should have been referred to an industrial toxicologist by competent emergency room personnel and doctors.
As documented in his medical and work records, with each episode of illness, Gary would take off from work and his health would improve, but after returning to work, the symptoms would return. That scenario is a text book example and typical of someone suffering from poisoning due to exposure to work place toxicants, especially fluorine poisoning.
Over the years, and despite numerous visits to doctors, Gary was never tested for industrial toxicants until he visited the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Texas. Previously, his condition was attributed to non specific myopathy by doctors. However, Dr. Rea, the attending physician at the Dallas Environmental Health Center diagnosed Gary as having toxic brain syndrome from his previous medical records. Dr. Hickey, at the Dallas facility ran a brain spectrograph and discovered neurological damage from exposure to neurotoxins and heavy metals confirming the “toxic brain syndrome” diagnosis. Dr. Rea recommended several sessions of chelation therapy. For most people it would only take one session, but because of Gary’s poor health, normal therapy would have proven lethal, and he was unable to undergo treatment.
Numerous employees of Occidental suffer from similar medical problems including two other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. According to Gary, employees who worked in the processing plants at Occidental “seemed to stay sick all the time. It was like they had a cold or the flu all the time. They were always taking over-the-counter medications so they could keep working.” He names numerous people with heart arrhythmias and symptoms of toxic brain syndrome. Gary also mentioned cases of Occidental employees who developed stomach cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, brain cancers, benign brain tumors and bone cancer. Several of the people with brain cancers have died.
Aside from exposure to air pollutants, the employees were also exposed to contaminants in the drinking water at the facility. Gary felt that toxic wastewater from the ponds was leaching into the aquifer. Fluoride levels in the water were between 15-17 parts per million. These levels are four times the maximum allowable contaminant level for drinking water established by USEPA. Phosphoric acid levels in the water were also very high. The drinking water was so laden with corrosive chemicals, it caused the metal pipes to crumble and be eaten away, Gary related.
Shortly before Gary was disabled, the water had become so contaminated that employees complained that it was undrinkable. A reverse osmosis system was installed. Due to the amount of contaminants, there were problems with clogging and the system was rendered ineffective. Gary requested that the company buy bottled water for the employees, but his request was denied. Rather than drink the foul tasting, toxic well water, many of the employees brought their own water to work or drank soft drinks.
In the complaint written by Gary Pittman’s attorneys, they allege that Occidental failed to provide and/or destroyed product data safety sheets and warning labels on toxic chemicals to avoid the expense of purchasing adequate safety equipment.
In documents and tapes provided by Pittman, he states that ventilation in the work areas was also poor and the equipment often failed. At one time the air-conditioning in laboratories recirculated the toxic air. During analytical procedures, toxic gases were recirculated in the rooms. “We poured all sorts of chemicals down an open drain in the floor. Sometimes they would start boiling and fuming. All those noxious fumes were recirculated by the air-conditioning system. We were continuously breathing that stuff, back then. We didn’t know any better.”
The complaint submitted by Jacksonville law firms, Coker, Myres, Schickel, Sorenson and Higgenbottom and Boyer, Tanzler and Boyer state, “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.”
In fact, according to the U.S. Public Health Service/Centers for Disease Control publication, Occupational Diseases: A Guide to their Recognition, 1977, pgs. 319-321, and Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology, National Safety Council, 1988, Occidental ignored the most fundamental recommendations for worker safety with regards to exposure to toxic chemicals and especially fluorine exposure. “Attention should be given promptly to any burns from fluorine compounds due to absorption of the fluorine at the burn site and the possibility of absorption from burn sites. Gary and his coworkers were never given any medical attention much less provided with adequate protective clothing and equipment.
Of the eight original plaintiffs who were directly exposed to the chemicals, only six remain, but others are coming forward. Two have died: One plaintiff, a non smoker, died of lung and liver cancer, and the other from bone cancer. Gary said the wife and daughter of one man suffering with similar health problems and the neurotoxic damage has developed similar symptoms. He went on to say that many people have died of what he now believes was exposure to toxic chemicals at the Occidental phosphoric acid and fertilizer plants.
“I read in the paper 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 basically a rural, farming county. You would think the air is less contaminated. The overall environment is cleaner. You would think the people would be healthier than in the big cities. The only thing here that is not in some of the other counties is Occidental Chemical Company.
“I wonder whether the water we are drinking is contaminated with chemicals from the leaking gypsum stacks. I worry about the air quality because it’s a fact 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 county and the general public. I feel like more studies need to be done by scientists who are not paid by the phosphate fertilizer industry or those government agencies who have done little or nothing over the years.”
After working almost twenty-one years in the phosphate fertilizer industry, Gary Pittman states: “If the facts were brought out in this case, the cat would be out of the bag. They (Occidental) know that I know where all the skeletons are buried. If we can get this information to the public, we could get some things done about the pollution, not only for us, but for the general public. These phosphate fertilizer companies would have to clean up their act. I know the general public is at risk due to sulfur dioxide, radionuclides, fluorosilicates and other harmful fumes being emitted from the plants, holding ponds and gypsum stacks. People are being made sick from that pollution.
” All these things concern and worry me. I thought about reporting the illegal emissions to Florida Department of Environmental Protection, OSHA and the EPA. But I wonder, because you don’t want to report things to the people who already know what is going on. They know people are sick and dying because of Occidental. If they were really concerned and cared about the public, they would have done something about Occidental a long time ago.”
Gary Owen Pittman is also concerned about the lawsuit because he knows that he is going up against a mammoth organization with much to lose. The parent company of Occidental Chemical Corporation, Hooker Chemical Corporation, is no stranger to litigation. Hooker Chemical was responsible for Love Canal (both companies are owned by Occidental Petroleum Corp.). Not only is he going up against Occidental, Pittman and the surviving plaintiffs in the lawsuit are taking on the entire phosphate fertilizer industry.
“It’s hard for us to trust anyone after what we’ve been through. I know Occidental has the power to buy and intimidate people. They could even cause my lawyers problems. They give money to political candidates, and I imagine they help the judges, who think their way, to get elected. All of us know that we’re alone and can’t depend on anyone, except one another.”
ACID MISTS AND CHEMICAL POISONING
I started work at the Occidental Chemical Corporation on January 24, 1972 in the Analytical Laboratory at the Suwannee River Complex. I was eighteen-years old and in excellent health.
My first position was that of a Junior Technician, also referred to as a sample preparation technician. I would drive to the mines, wastewater canals or wherever samples need to be taken and prepared for chemical analysis.
The preparation of samples required many different steps. Wet samples of phosphate rock, feed, phosphoric acid and tailings were mixed by hand. Wet samples of rock from the floatation plant contained reagents, fatty acids, amines and ammonia, used to float the phosphate from the sand. We placed them in pans where the samples were baked dry in a conventional drying oven. We never used gloves, and the oven was vented inside the room.
Once the wet samples were dry, we would take them into a grinding room that was very small and unventilated. The grinders were electric and pulverized the rock into a fine powder. We were never provided dust masks or respirators. By the time we finished, we would be covered in dust and had to blow it off with compressed air.
We also secured samples of sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid, Polyphos (an animal feed supplement) and gypsum cake slurry. Entering the sulfuric acid plants, we were exposed to sulfur dioxide. In the phosphoric acid plants we were primarily exposed to silica tetra fluoride gas and toxic vapors from production.
Because I was in an entry level position, I was also the cook when we had to work overtime. Generally, I would cook TV dinners in the microwave oven for the overtime personnel. However, if there were too many people working overtime, I would cook the dinners in the large, conventional drying oven along with the rock samples.
I was promoted to a laboratory technician and analyzed the samples. During that period, I did analyses for fluorine in animal feed supplement and wastewater, analyzed phosphoric acid for metal content using an Atomic Absorption Unit, and general product analyses.
We would start with a sample and add nitric acid or hydrofluoric acid to digest the product. We then placed the sampled on a hot plate under a ventilation hood and boiled them. We poured samples down an open drain in the floor. The reactions would often cause fuming, the release of chemical gases. Chemical fumes in that area were terrible because the exhaust system was not designed to handle the volume of work we did in the laboratory. The fans were belt driven, so when it rained, the belts slipped, and the exhaust fans didn’t work. Sometimes, the fumes were so thick, they took my breath away. The air-conditioning system was a recirculation type and recirculated the fumes.
Occidental provided no safety education or equipment, at that time. The only safety requirement was safety glasses. Respirators, dust masks or gloves were not required or readily provided.
We used to trap fish in the spillway to the retention ponds, clean cook and eat them for lunch or dinner at work. We promptly stopped that practice after seeing a large fish kill from a sulfuric acid spill.
In late 1974, I transferred to the phosphoric acid plants. At that time, I felt as if I was in good health. However, I did have problems with dizziness, difficulty with breathing, some diarrhea, frequent headaches, and chronic colds with congestion.
My first job was as to control the levels in the raw feed tanks transferring phosphate rock from the draglines to the plants. I also pumped the raw matrix into floatation tanks where chemicals were added to separate the silica from the phosphate. The phosphate rock would then be pumped into storage bins to be ground for onsite phosphoric acid production or sold to other manufacturers. The sand (general trailings) was pumped onto a waste stack: these general trailings are radioactive.
In that area, we were exposed to amines, ammonia and phosphate rock dust containing fluorides, silica, heavy metals including uranium and its decay rate products on a daily basis. We were constantly working with the phosphate rock, raw and floated. We breathed the dust, fumes and mists from sprays while taking samples and turning valves. Everyone seemed to be sick with colds, head aches and breathing problems.
Late 1974, I transferred to stores. There, I was an issue clerk at the storeroom. I had to issue tools, parts and general products needed to run and maintain the operation. The stores department was located next to the ball mill where the phosphate rock was ground to a fine powder for the Dorr-Oliver feed supplement plant. Dust from the ball mill was very bad. Walking to and from the parking lot was a source of exposure to hydrogen fluoride, silica tetra fluoride, nitric oxide, sulfur dioxide and general pollution from the plant. At that time, I had frequent cold, congestion and headaches.
I transferred from stores to the Dorr-Oliver phosphoric acid complex as an Evaporator Operator. My job was to bring the phosphoric to 28%, 40% and 50% concentrations. The Dorr-Oliver Complex was the first plant Occidental built at White Springs, Florida in the later 1960′s. I was required to help with other plant duties such as cleaning reactors, holding tanks, gypsum hoppers, the rock room, pipes, fume ducts, and pollution scrubbers. I also had to watch the reaction side of the complex while the operator was busy with other duties. There I set up the pumps, lines, valves and caught samples.
The work environment was very bad at the Dorr-Oliver complex. OSHA had not been formed when the facility was built. We worked in thick acidic fumes and vapors: Silica tetra fluoride, hydrogen fluoride, sulfur dioxide, fumes from defoamers, and gypsum and phosphate rock dusts on a daily bases. Occidental’s safety program was basically nonexistent at that time. Wearing of safety glasses was not enforced, respirators were available on a limited basis and self contained breathing apparatus was not available. I would frequently cough up blood when the fumed were bad. I began to miss work frequently because of terrible chest colds. Some of the old-timers said I had “chemical pneumonia.” Radionuclides were also present as Uranium-328, radium-226, Radon-222, Polonium-210, etc.
In making phosphoric acid, phosphate rock is dumped into a 93% solution of sulfuric acid. The reaction produces silica tetra fluoride gas. When the gas comes in contact with water, it creates fluorosilicic acid. If you breath the silica tetra fluoride gas, when it comes in contact with the moisture in your lungs, hydrofluoric acid is formed leaving a crystalline silica particle. Hydrofluoric acid is the most corrosive acid known. Other fluorine fumes we breathed were uranium hexafluoride, radon hexafluoride and many other types of 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.
We also had a small laboratory in the control room for analyses. We tested the sulfated for reactor control. The ventilation was very poor. We had to keep barium chloride heated to 198 degrees for hourly testing. The air-conditioning unit was self contained, so it recirculated the stagnant, fume filled air. The heating system was the same, recirculating the air in the room. We had no lunch room, so we sat around and ate lunch while the chemicals were cooking on the hotplate.
At that point in my career, I was unaware that most of these chemicals would cause harm to myself and my coworkers. We were exposed not only to the fumes and vapors from the acid reaction, but also defoamers. The defoamers were used because the sulfuric acid would boil when the phosphate rock was introduced. This would cause the mixture to violently foam and overflow from the reaction chamber. I remember one defoaming agent in particular, AZ-23, an oil-based product. If you happened to get some on your clothes or skin, it wouldn’t come off.
On repair days, we had to clean tanks, reactors, fume ducts and the pollution scrubber, etc. This was nasty work that required entering confined spaces for long periods of time to clean out solidified fluorosilicates and gypsum scale. We had to use air chisels to chip out way into the vessels while tossing chunks out by hand. The sludges had to be shoveled out by hand. All of these toxic materials were dumped into the evaporation ponds atop the gypsum stacks.
Clean up was a dirty, nasty job. There was no ventilation and no tests were done to see if the oxygen content would support life. When my wife washed my clothes after clean up days, they would fall apart because of the fluorosilicate dust I picked up.
The Dorr-Oliver complex was shut down due to a sagging sales, and I was laid off for six weeks. My health was about the same: Chronic colds, congestion and headaches with some dizziness and trouble breathing.
I went back to work as a solvent extraction operator in 1977. As noted, I had already held many positions at Occidental and proved to be a competent worker. Occidental was expanding the product line and building new complexes to accommodate production of the products. We were experimenting with new processes, facilities and ideas.
The Solvent Extraction was an experimental facility built to extract iron, aluminum magnesium and mainly aluminum out of phosphoric acid. Occidental planned to produce superphosphoric acid and ship it around the world. There was only one major problem. The metals cause the superphosphoric acid to crystallize. The Solvent Extraction (called SX) plant was designed to remove most of the metal contaminants.
I was the “A” operator in this experimental SX facility. We mixed several chemical reagents with the phosphoric acid which were supposed to extract the metals. I was exposed to these chemicals daily. A supervisor told me that mixtures of these chemicals with phosphoric acid were hazardous, but I was never issued any personal protection equipment. I later discovered that the chemicals were flammable as well as toxic.
The chemical was Di-Nonyl-Naphalene-sulfonic acid. It was mixed with kerosene and then added to the phosphoric acid. Sulfuric acid was added in the process. The solvent had a muddy color and a peculiar smell.
The process worked, but Occidental was having difficulty in disposing of the toxic wastes and abandoned the project. Later, the same result was achieved using a drum-filter process. At that time I began suffering with severe dizzy spells with frequent colds, breathing problems and headaches.
I was transferred to the Prayon complex built at White Springs, Florida as an evaporation operator. There, I operated five low pressure evaporators that would bring the acid to various concentrations. I was required to help change filter cloths and cleaned filtrate tank lines, fume ducts and pollution scrubbers. I also took and analyzed samples for superphosphoric acidic concentration, sulfate levels and other contaminants.
The Prayon complex was much larger then the Dorr-Oliver plant. In spite of the fact that it was a new facility, the working conditions were about the same. We were exposed to the same toxic chemicals possible at a greater concentration because the plant was larger.
Occidental’s safety program was still very poor, but OSHA was beginning to make visits and inspections. Respirators were available on a limited basis, but we had no self contained breathing apparatus. The only required protection gear at that time was a hard hat and safety glasses.
Repair days brought exposure from breathing and contact with the acids and chemicals. No tests were done for oxygen levels. The vessels were normally hot, there was no ventilation and workers would often pass out due to the heat and fumes. I have seen this happen, many times. I would often cough up blood after cleaning days.
Next, I went to the Hemihydrate phosphoric acid plant as an “A” operator for a new process. My job was to control the reaction and filtration processes. The process was complex and consisted of a rock slurry tank, dissolver reactor, crystallizer reactor and filter feed.
Phosphate rock, water and sulfuric acid were mixed together to form phosphoric acid slurry. This concoction was pumped to a tank where the gypsum solids were filtered out. The fumes were the worst I had ever experienced at Occidental. They were so thick, and acidic, my skin would start burning.
The excessive fuming was due to the nature of the Hemihydrate process. With the other processes, the phosphoric acid is about a 28% concentration at 165-180 degrees Fahrenheit. With the Hemihydrate process produces a 40% concentration at about 205 degrees. The process generated excessive fuming and release of silica-tetra fluoride and hydrogen fluoride gases.
Since the Hemihydrate process was new, we were basically flying by the seat of our pants and learning something new every day. At first, we had bad foaming problems in the dissolver reactor. We had to use very large amounts of defoamers to keep foaming over at a minimum, but it was still a problem in the early days of operation. We were always sloshing around in acid. I was buying a new pair of shoes every two months. The acid would literally eat the shoes off our feet.
We would develop acid sores and rashes on our arms, hands and feet. I remember one day when I was assigned the task of cleaning a filter hood along with another employee. White, powdery fluorosilicate dust was everywhere. As we were cleaning, the powdery dust would fill the air and cover us. The weather was hot, we pulled a six-hour stint and we were sweating profusely. When the fluorosilicates hit the sweat on our bodies, they formed fluorosilicic acid. If we didn’t wash it off in time, blisters would form.
Going home that evening, my clothes began to fume so bad I couldn’t see. My eyes were also burning. I had to roll the window down in order to see the road.
Later, I was promoted to supervisor of shift workers at the Prayon and Hemihydrate plants. At times, the position was worse than being a shift worker. Aside from all the clerical and supervisory duties, I found myself in the middle of spills, and foamings or helping patch leaking pipes or pumps.
In 1978, I returned to the Dorr-Oliver complex as a supervisor for a restart with a new computerized control room. OSHA was citing Occidental on a regular basis for safety violations. Occidental was attempting to improve the company safety program. The Florida Department of Environmental Regulation was also investigating Occidental for emission violations. They were emitting fluorides at almost ten times the level allowed by law. The hydrogen fluoride emissions were eating the paint off cars and etching the glass on our vehicles in the parking lots. The Dorr-Oliver sulfuric acid plants were also emitting large quantities of sulfur dioxide. At that time the only safety gear required was a hard hat and safety glasses.
Occidental was building a new chemical complex at what is now called Swift Creek. In late 1979, I was transferred to the Swift Creek complex to help with the start up. I left Occidental in 1980 to manage our small, family farm until small profit margins drove us out of business in 1985. I returned to Occidental in 1985 as a shipping supervisor. I was responsible for unloading raw materials and loading sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid and super phosphoric acid into railroad cars.
The worst chemical exposures in this area were to sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide from burning sulfur. We melted the solid sulfur in railroad cars by attaching steam lines to coils inside the cars. The super heated steam melted the sulfur to a red hot, molten state. At that point we could unload the cars into launders below the cars. The sulfur is used to make sulfuric acid.
Sometimes the railroad cars would catch on fire and the only way to extinguish it was to climb atop the car and shut the dome lid. This would cut off the oxygen.
When popping the dome lids, we would always get a whiff of hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas.
In 1985, I found myself back as a supervisor at evaporation purification. There, I oversaw the last purification steps of superphosphoric acid before it went to the customer. The acid was concentrated to a 70% solution.
We received our low grade phosphoric acid from the Hemihydrate plant where it goes through several processes. We treated the acid with Synspar (synthetic fluorspar) to remove iron, aluminum and magnesium among other steps in the evaporation and purification process.
We made the Synspar by adding lime dust to evaporation pond water containing about 15,000 parts per million of fluorine (hydrofluoric and fluorosilicic acid) in a reaction vessel. The reaction drives of carbon dioxide leaving calcium fluoride and sodium silicofluoride. Calcium fluoride is the Synspar which is separated and dewatered in a centrifuge. We were exposed to fluorides, defoamers, and acid fumes and vapors for 8-12 hours a day.
September of 1986, a rash began to cover my arms, hands and back. It was a round circular rash that would start out small and grow leaving my skin white and scaly. The rash was eating me alive. My neighbor was a doctor and I asked him about it. He said that he had never seen anything like it before, but it might have been caused by a reaction or be mycotic. He prescribed some medicine and the rash went away. I missed work several days on that occasion.
Several years later, my right hand became swollen. I went to the doctor, and he said that I had a hairline fracture above the pinky finger. I had not hurt myself. It healed in several weeks.
As I continued to work in evaporation and purification, I experienced frequent colds, neck pain, dizziness, chronic fatigue and breathing problems.
About that time Occidental shut down “A” pollution scrubber. We had two pollution scrubbers, “A” and “B.” The explanation from management as to why the scrubber was shut down was, “they are not needed.” That surprised me because I knew the permits from the state required that both scrubbers be in well maintained and tested by the state inspectors on a yearly basis.
“A” scrubber removed some of the more toxic fumes and it was evident when it was not running. I was afraid to report what Occidental had done because I would have lost my job. The “A” scrubber was down for three years until the manager retired and a new person came. When our new boss took over, the scrubber was put back on line.
Even the cooling stack tests for fluorine emissions done by the Florida DEP and OSHA were “fixed”, for the most part. The DEP and OSHA had to notify Occidental before inspecting the complexes. All the pollution scrubbers were cleaned, and we used fresh water instead of evaporation pond water. The next step was to have defluorinated animal feed supplement dumped into the reaction vessels and raw phosphate slurry following that so if the inspectors took a sample the fluorine content would be right. The cooling stack tests would be complete with a clean bill of health before the raw slurry was dumped into the reactors. This was standard operating procedure when Occidental was to undergo emissions testing.
In 1991, I woke up feeling dizzy and nearly passed out. I felt as if my heart was skipping beats. Frightened, I went to the emergency room at Lakeshore Hospital in Lake City, Florida. They checked me out, did an EKG and drew some blood. The doctor came back and said that he thought I had Lyme’s disease, but the tests came out negative. I was out of work for several weeks and lost twenty pounds.
I was promoted to an assistant superintendent in 1991 and seemed to be doing better health-wise. My new job was very challenging. I made most of the decisions regarding problems around the plant.
With the fall of the Soviet Union we had lost a large contract supplying them with superphosphoric acid. The entire industry was depressed, and we were trying to find new ways to make phosphoric acid at less cost. The company was downsizing and we were doing more work with fewer people.
In late 1992 and early 1993, I began working with different types of scale inhibitors and slurry flocculants. These were known carcinogens. Warnings were on the labels. I don’t remember the names, but I requested material data safety sheets for our files.
In may of 1993, my feet became swollen and I could barely walk. I was also having dizzy spells, suffered with episodes of confusion, dizzy spells, heart palpitation and chest pains. I went to a doctor in Valdosta, Georgia. They drew blood and did an EKG. The doctor said that I had a heart attack, but not recently.
My last working day at Occidental was 21 May 1993. That is when I went on short term disability for two years. I returned to the doctor to learn that I had some type of muscle destructive process happening. My CPK enzyme levels were over 5,000 which is very abnormal. The doctor told me that there was nothing he could do except recommend a specialist.
I went to see the specialist. They did a muscle biopsy, reviewed my blood tests, medical files and said that I had a muscle disease and would never be the same. He called the disease polymyositis and said that I had major muscle damage. The prognosis was if my CPK levels stayed down, I would regain some strength. After being out of work for six months, I had to go on long-term disability.
After about one year, my condition improved some, but not to the degree the doctor thought. I saw another specialist in Tifton, Georgia. After reviewing my medical records and running tests, he said that I had some form of myopathy, but could not label the type. Later I went to the Environmental Health Center in Dallas Texas and was diagnosed with toxic brain syndrome (toxic myopathy).
Today, I suffer with many disorders including obstructive pulmonary disease with emphysema, toxic brain syndrome, irregular heart beats, arthragias, hypertension, loss of memory, loss of balance, abnormal liver and sores on my hands, legs and behind my ears.
Like so many people, I was naive and always thought that Occidental had my best interest at heart. However, in view of my experiences during the twenty years I worked for Occidental Chemical Corporation, I learned the hard way: Standard operating procedure for Occidental management was based on falsehoods, deceit and with the attitude that they can do no wrong.
THE CLEAN JOB
I started work at the Occidental Chemical Corporation as a Junior Laboratory Technician in 1966 at the Suwannee River Complex. I was 18 years old, earned two dollars an hour and did the usual sample worked described in Gary Pittman’s account.
When I first started at the Suwannee River Complex, the lab wasn’t finished. We had to dry samples on hot plates in the lab with only two windows for ventilation. In 1967, Occidental bought a large drying oven, but the fumes were still vented into the lab where we were doing analyses. The only safety equipment we had back then was [were] safety glasses. Gloves, respirators and dust masks were not supplied to us. We were constantly exposed to reagents used for analyses, vapors from acidic reagents reacting with samples, fumes from boiling reagents and dusts from grinding phosphate samples.
It was sort of ironic that we cooked our meals along with the samples drying in the sample oven. At that time, the practice was out of necessity. We didn’t have a designated eating area, and many times, we had to eat while were doing analyses. It wasn’t unusual to be eating a sandwich and working at the same time. The samples contained ammonia, amines, fatty acids, fuel oil, kerosene, sulfuric acid, fluorine gases, etc. Vapors and gases from these chemicals were given off during testing procedures.
In the early years, we used glass jugs to store bulk reagents. I remember one time, a five-gallon, glass container of a nitric/hydrochloric acid mixture broke. The contents spilled over a lab-tech’s legs and feet. It immediately dissolved his socks and shoes. The fellow almost passed from the acid fumes. Another time a glass container of ammonium hydroxide hit the floor and busted. We had to evacuate the whole lab.
I worked as a sample tech for about three years before I was promoted to a lab technician and began doing wet analyses. We used nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, ammonium hydroxide, acetone, xylene, triethanolamine, potassium cyanide, sodium fluoride, trichlorethylene, etc. We used the cyanide in a manner which I now know was very dangerous. We added acid to a cyanide solution that fumed cyanide gas. There was no adequate ventilation so we would turn our nose away because the fumes were so strong. We were making the same cyanide gas used to execute prisoners.
The ventilation in the lab was very poor, even under the fume hood. We also did many analyses not using the fume hood. One such test was the distillation method for determining fluorine levels in the phosphate rock. If the conditions were not right, fluorine gases would be created. We also used hydrofluoric acid in this procedure.
Located outside the fume hood, we had a high temperature oven we called a “mini pilot plant.” We used this device to simulate the Polyphos (animal feed supplement) process where fluorine is driven off the phosphate rock by heating it to a molten state. The Polyphos complex could not run unless we did these test first to determine how long the rock had to be cooked to bring the fluorine levels down to where they were acceptable by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most analyses were done by dissolving samples in nitric, hydrochloric or perchloric acid on hot plates under fume hoods. The exhaust systems did not perform properly. Cooking samples in perchloric acid under the same fume hood was dangerous. Perchloric acid fumes form an explosive compound on the inside of the fume hood. Fortunately, we never had an explosion, but I knew someone who did experience an explosion. His name was Charles Thornton. He owned Thornton Labs in Lakeland, Florida; he was severely burned when the hood in his lab exploded.
The air-conditioning in the lab was a closed loop system. All it did was recirculate contaminated air. We were sure of this because we would clean the glass on interior doors at night before we left. Come morning, the glass would be coated with sticky dust again. We used to comment about the lab conditions saying we had a good clean job in the laboratory. Little did we know that we were exposed to dangerous chemicals and the consequences of that exposure. As far as I know, they are still using the air-conditioning system.
We were exposed to chemicals both inside and outside the lab. Like most everyone else who worked at the complex, I have had my car painted twice because acid fumes etched the paint on my car. Occidental still says that the pollution will not hurt you.
1973, I was promoted to Shift Supervisor at the Suwanee River Complex Analytical Laboratory. Most of my time was spent in the lab area troubleshooting problems and training seven lab assistants in new procedures. I was also responsible for performing maintenance and calibrating lab instruments.
By 1979, I was promoted to Lead Analyst of a Special Services Group and transferred to the Jacksonville, Florida port terminal. There, I did analyses on bulk shipments of phosphoric and superphosphoric acid. I was first trained in the use of respirators at that time.
In 1982, the Special Services Group was eliminated because of downsizing, and I went back to the position of a shift analyst at the Swift Creek complex.
In June 1983, I went for a routine physical at the Riverside Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Test results showed that I had liver abnormalities. They continued testing me through 1985, and the liver function abnormalities persisted. Dr. Weitzner and Dr. Merrel of the Riverside staff recommended that I no longer work in areas where I would be exposed to hepatotoxins. On June 26, 1986, I was assigned to work outside the lab after my superintendent and Safety Superintendent discussed my situation. This was done during the time interval required for the company doctor to review my records.
On July 15, 1985, Dr. Zavon, Occidental’s corporate medical consultant, sent the slides from my liver biopsy to a Dr. Cushner at Stoney Brook University in Long Island to review. Dr. Cushner was the dean of the college and a medical pathologist. Dr. Cushner said that he didn’t see much in the slides. The doctors in Jacksonville, had already noted that I had changes in my muscle enzymes levels. Consequently, on September, 10, 1985, Dr. Zavon telephoned the doctors in Jacksonville and persuaded them to “ease off” what he considered an “over diagnosis.” I was back in the laboratory in November, 22, 1989 doing routine work. However, there was one limitation, I was not to perform analyses using organic solvents like methanol, ethanol, acetone, etc.
In 1990, my health problems began to worsen, and I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. This diagnosis was basically 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.
In 1991, when I was diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease, I asked my superintendent about the possibility of being transferred to a less stressful and demanding position. He spoke with the Technical Services Manager. Both my superintendent and the Technical Services manager said there were no positions available. Several years later I discovered that the Technical Services Manager filed a suit with the EEOC because he did not get a job he wanted. Occidental wound up placing him in the position he requested.
My last day working for Occidental was February 28, 1993. I was never offered another position at Occidental in spite of my twenty-seven years there.
In a report, Dr. Weitzner (Riverside Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida) said that the test data was consistent with the toxic effects of drug use. But I had never used drugs. I told him it had to have been the chemicals. I then asked him if he would relate the solvents to my liver damage. Dr. Weitzner said that he would not say that my liver damage was caused by chemical exposure in the workplace.
The only reason I could determine for Dr. Weitzner’s reluctance to state that chemical exposure could have caused my liver problems was that Riverside was contracted by Occidental to supply medical services to company personnel. The lawyer representing my workman’s compensation case had to force Riverside Clinic to release my medical records with a court order.
In 1994, doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville said that I might have passed “something” on to my daughter and son. They said that my family history suggested that, but they were unsure. During my infancy I had a mild case of polio, but that disease is not hereditary. Tests proved that my family (granddaughter) has no hereditary health problems. I did a family tree going back over one-hundred years including more than one-hundred people, and there were no health problems resembling mine. The doctors said that I had also these problems since I was in high school, but how could I have worked for twenty-seven years on the verge of total disability?
In 1997, I went to the Dallas Environmental Health Center for toxicological testing and a spectrographic brain scan. The results showed neurotoxic damage. Occidental sent the findings to a Dr. William George of Tulane University in Louisiana and Dr. Ronald Gots, Bethesda Maryland. They concluded that none of the chemicals I worked with could cause muscular dystrophy or the health problems that many people who worked for Occidental now suffer with. However, there are other people who worked for Occidental who have the same symptoms. I, Jesse Nash and Gary Pittman have all been diagnosed with toxic brain syndrome at the Dallas Environmental Health Center.
Gary Pittman was first diagnosed as having Lyme’s disease, then non specific muscular disease and finally with toxic brain syndrome. They said that Jesse Nash had Lupus and then palindrome arthritis. Many others who worked for Occidental are similarly ill, and I wonder how many of them have been misdiagnosed by doctors working for clinics contracted by Occidental.
In 1998, I retained a Miami-Ocala, Florida-based lawyer, Henry Ferro. One day before he believed the statute of limitations ran out, Ferro filed a toxic tort lawsuit on my behalf. The lawsuit was sent to Federal court. I believe that Ferro was threatened by Occidental, because without my consent, he filed a motion to dismiss himself as my attorney. I had to petition the judge to dismiss my case without aid from an attorney.
Along with Gary Pittman, I have done extensive research into the long-term toxic effects of the chemicals and substances that were prevalent at the Occidental chemical complexes. Many of the toxic effects of those chemicals have been known for some time. Occidental management had to have known that they were systematically poisoning workers by not providing proper safety equipment and education regarding the handling of those chemicals and substances. However, Occidental has the money and where-with-all to hire attorneys, experts and doctors who will say that breathing cyanide gas will not hurt anyone except murderers in a gas chamber.
FUMES AND TOXIC SLIMES
(Billy Baldwin’s Story)
“Billy is the type of person who gets up early in the morning and goes to bed about 11:00 p.m., but in September 1993 he would come home from work and go to bed. Living with Billy for more than thirty years, I knew something was wrong. Billy was tired all the time. He had headaches, nausea and looked like a ghost.
“Finally, I asked him to go to the doctor, but Billy said he would lose his job if he took off from work.”
Billy Baldwin came home from work on the afternoon of November 13, 1993 and said he couldn’t take it any more. Charlotte took Billy to the emergency room al Lake Shore Hospital in Lake City Florida. He was admitted for severe anemia and remained hospitalized for three days. A blood test and bone biopsy were performed, but the hospital doctors said they could find nothing unusual.
Billy was given a prescription for very large daily doses of vitamin B12 with frolic acid tablets for one year. When Charlotte went to the druggist, he asked who had written the prescription. “I asked what was wrong, and the druggist said that athletes didn’t take that much B12. He then said that he would have to verify the prescription with the doctor.”
After two weeks, Billy’s condition didn’t improve, and he still was very anemic. He was then referred to Dr. Vernon Montoya in Gainesville where again they drew blood and took a bone biopsy. When the results came back, the doctor asked Billy how he managed to walk into the office.
A few days later, when the results from the bone marrow tests came back from the laboratory, Dr. Montoya called Charlotte. “I took the phone and asked what was wrong. Dr. Montoya said that we would discuss it in the morning, and I questioned him further. Finally, he gave in and told me that Billy had leukemia, the worst type. It broke my heart.”
Charlotte Baldwin’s account is only one of many from the wives of men who have worked at the Occidental Chemical Complexes in Hamilton County, Florida. Billy is a stable person, the father of two daughters, and he has only had two jobs during his adult life with time out to go to Vietnam in 1968. He started with Occidental in 1979 as a laborer on the float crew at the mines. Later, became a “whencher” who lays and repairs pipes that transport the phosphate slurry to the phosphoric plants and tailings to the phosphogypsum stacks.
It was usual for Billy to wade waste deep in radioactive sludges and toxic slime from the production and mining wastes. “When they mine the phosphate rock, it is dumped into a well pit and broke up with high pressure hoses. From there the slurry was transported through pipes to a washer where the phosphate was separated from the sand and clay. Sometimes the pipes ran three or four miles to the washer. Many times, We had to lay those pipe lines across toxic slime ditches. The pressure from the pumps was so great that it wasn’t unusual for the 18 inch steel pipes to blow out. We had to work waste-deep in the mud and slime.”
If the washer was nearby a phosphoric acid plant, the toxic, radioactive waste water was used. In the pipes, there are flow meters that adjust the flow rate of waste water being delivered to the pond and detect levels of radioactivity. When the men were working on the lines, the flowmeters were supposed to be shut down, but many times they were not. Not only was there slime containing uranium and its decay rate products, but there were all the solvents, fluorides, flocculants and acids associated with the production of phosphoric and sulfuric acid.
Occidental float crews were given no special protective gear, clothes, dust masks or respirators. “Close to the chemical plant or washer, the plant water would be mixed in with all the phosphate, mud and water we were working in. Sometimes, we would be up to our waists in the slime and mud for the whole shift. It smelled of chemicals and stagnant water, a stinking blue-grey slime with an oily slick floating on top of it.”
As the phosphate rock is broken down with water and floated, slimy clay sediment remains, referred to as a mud ball. This is sucked up through a 24-inch steel pipe and shot into a settling pond. The mud ball sits there for a few days until it becomes firm enough to extend more pipe across. Often equipment used would become mired down and float crews were required to wade out in the radioactive sludge and free the equipment. This task was completed by the crew no matter if it took one-hour or twenty-four hours of being waist deep in the sludge.
Evaporation from the contaminated slimes, water and mud carry with them the toxic substances contained in the waste. Radon, a gas and decay rate products of uranium, also drifts off in the evaporation process. Alpha emitting radionuclides do not pose a significant threat outside the body. But when ingested or inhaled and metabolized, they pose a significant threat. Radon is only one of many decay rate sequences of uranium-238. In 2.86 days it decays to lead-210 which acts like calcium in the body and is a bone seeker. Lead has a half-life of twenty years before it decays to polonium-210. Polonium-210 emits five-thousand times the alpha radiation as the same amount of radium. The half-life of polonium-210 is 138 days. Beta radiation emitting radionuclides like lead-210 which has a half life of twenty years (accumulates in the bone) are also dangerous when ingested and metabolized in the body.
Also, it is likely that radium and uranium, alpha emitters, were converted to gaseous fluorides as the hydrogen fluoride was evaporated from the pond water. Breathing the radioactive, gaseous fluorides would possibly act to potentiate the effects of the radionuclides. As with fluorosilicates, a reaction would occur when the fluorides came in contact with moist bronchial or lung tissues. Separation would occur forming hydrofluoric acid and the radionuclide. The hydrofluoric acid would dissolve the lung tissue leaving the radionuclide to be carried into the blood stream and delivered to target organs.
Leukemia is associated with exposure to radiation. Leukemia is also a disease that is associated with young people. Billy was in his late forties. Interestingly, people living near phosphate mining operations and processing are twice as likely to develop leukemia and lung cancer.
Billy also spent time at the Suwannee River Phosphoric Acid Complex and related: “They had a reduction in the work force. Instead of laying me off, they sent me to work in phosphoric acid production. At that time, they had shut down the reactor, and we had to clean it out with chipping hammers the scale was so hard. It was so hot and the fumes were so thick in the reactors that we could only work in thirty minute intervals. We were never provided with respirators. We couldn’t wear the rain suits provided to us because it was so hot. We would have passed out from heat exhaustion; we were working Twelve-hour shifts.
“We also had to clean the pollution scrubbers. There was white, powdery fluorosilicate and phosphate dust all over. We sprayed the walls with a high pressure hose. We had to use the acid resistant rain gear in there, but we had no respirators. The acid water would splash all over us and get inside the suit, We had to take showers all the time. And the fumes were very bad.”
Fluorosilicate and phosphate dust were so thick in the production areas, the men would have to sweep the toxic dust into wheel barrels which were dumped onto a conveyer belt. The dust was so thick in the air, the men would “spit and cough it up.” Billy stated that his skin turned ashen during his assignment at the phosphoric acid complex.
For a time, I worked at the ball mill where they grind phosphate pebble to be processed among other jobs. On the survey crew, we mostly surveyed raw phosphate fertilizer at the Suwannee River granulation complex. They were all dirty and dusty jobs.
The environment was even less important than the employees to Occidental management as documented by Billy Baldwin: “I worked on a survey crew twice at Occidental. We cut a line through the woods around washers at the Swift Creek and Suwannee Complexes. The washer pits were filled with steel drums, paint cans, break fluid, spray cans and chemical soaked wood from the acid complexes.
They covered the pits with a certain amount of tailings sand, then they would dump a measured amount of mud ball waste. This stuff was contaminated with everything used at the complexes. We would have to survey to make sure each level of sand and mud was about two feet thick. After we were finished, they planted pine trees over both dump sites. There were a lot of different chemicals covered up at both dump sites. We worked on those dump sites for a long time.”
Billy also states that it was common to see dead fish and birds around the incoming pumps at the washing pits. “Going into the Swift Creek complex, I used to see catfish with blisters on their backs and back. We hardly ever saw any birds around the ponds, but if one would land and take a drink, they would start flopping around and die. Nothing much lived around those ponds. The trees and plants were all burnt and dead from the acid fumes.”
The contaminated mud and sand tailings were also used to reclaim the strip-mined land. “After the operation was finished, pine trees were planted over the reclaimed land,” said Billy. “The tailings and meat ball they used to reclaim the pits had a little bit of everything in them.”
Accounts from other Occidental employees cite birds falling out of the air when passing over the complexes because of sulfur dioxide emissions. “Birds would fly into the reddish haze from the sulfuric acid complex and just drop out of the sky like rocks.”
In poor, rural counties, employees were a renewable resource. In spite of the ultimate price, most people are grateful to have good paying jobs and say nothing about the working conditions. At the Occidental Chemical Complexes in Hamilton County, Florida, exposure to chemicals, radionuclides and acids were all part of the job description for their workers. The resulting adverse health effects could be debated with Florida Judges, Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Health who are all sympathetic to the positions and well being of the phosphate fertilizer industry in Florida.
In essence, if workers wanted to keep their jobs, they do what they were told and don’t make waves. The employee’s safety and health were not even a minor consideration when it came to profitability by Occidental Chemical Corporation bean counters.
In Florida almost everyone cooperates with phosphate fertilizer manufactures. The blood sample and bone marrow biopsy was taken from Billy Baldwin at the Lake City hospital: Charlotte Baldwin said when she requested the results, the staff said they had lost them. The extremely low white blood cell level would indicate to any competent doctor that Billy had a serious problem and further tests should have been done. The physician prescribed massive doses of vitamin B12 for a period of a year.
No tests were done for toxic substances in the bone marrow or blood when everyone knew that Billy worked at the Occidental chemical complexes and was exposed to toxic substances. Thus far, all the workers interviewed have stated that when they went to local hospitals for emergency treatments or to doctors, no one ever did any testing for toxic substances in their blood, hair or urine. It was common knowledge that they worked for Occidental and were exposed to toxicants on a daily basis. No questions were ever asked.
When Billy Baldwin visited Dr. Montoya in Gainesville, he was on the verge of death from leukemia. The physician at the Lakeshore Hospital in Lake City had prescribed vitamin B12 and folic acid which was correct for a normal case of anemia, but Billy had leukemia and death was knocking at the door.
In reading the accounts and speaking with other employees, one comes to realize that misdiagnosis was the norm. Jesse Nash was diagnosed with Lupus, and Gary Pittman with nonspecific myopathy when both were suffering with toxic brain syndrome. This leaves one wondering how many other workers were misdiagnosed, prescribed painkillers or vitamins and died. How many death certificates suggest some generic cause of death such as heart failure or stroke?
BRIMSTONE AND HEAVING EARTH
Jesse Nash’s account touched me because we had much in common. Jesse, is one of those guys who has been around. He went over to Tel Aviv, Israel and volunteered as a fire fighter/emergency medical technician during the Gulf War and received commendations. He is a certified cave diver, open water diver, amateur archeologist and outdoors man. Jesse has done a little of everything including a stint as a Highway Patrolman, but today he cannot mow the lawn on a riding lawnmower without suffering from swollen joints and disabling pain for weeks. Jesse is disabled and suffers with toxic brain syndrome, palindrome arthritis and has high levels of radionuclides in his system.
My first experience with chemicals and chemical exposure was when I began working for Occidental Chemical Corporation’s Suwannee River Chemical Complex in 1979. Hired as a temporary laborer, I was scheduled to work a minimum of twelve hours a day for twenty-one days during a sulfuric acid turnaround. We replaced or repaired all of the damaged or worn equipment. (A turnaround is a major overhaul of the facility that is done every two years at most sulfuric acid plants)
As temporary laborers, we had to remove spent vanadium pentoxide catalyst (a toxic metal) from the plant converter. A converter is a four-story sealed tank (called masses). Each floor is covered with about two feet of vanadium pentoxide. Extremely hot sulphur dioxide is passed through the beds and is converted to sulphur trioxide that later is made into sulfuric acid.
Back then, the work wasn’t easy. We had to crawl through 24 inch hatches. There was no ventilation, and safety was not a priority at that time. Sweating and breathing fumes, we had to remove the spent catalyst in five gallon buckets, lug them to one of the hatches and dump the buckets into a hopper. All we were issued were hard-hats, safety glasses and dust masks. The masks clogged quickly because of the sweat, moisture in our breath and thick dust present at all times. Sulfuric acid was formed when the sweat came in contact with the dust caked around the edges of my mask and burned my face.
From the third day of turnaround until the converter was refilled with vanadium pentoxide, I stopped by the clinic each morning so the nurse could dress the burns. All I could wear was a hard-hat with a face shield because the bandages were so bulky. Now, I wonder what those dust and fumes were doing to my lungs.
I guess I did all right, because a supervisor, Joe Crosby, called me aside and said that he recommended me for a permanent job. In 1979 he died at about forty-years old, I heard that his lungs were shot. There was another fellow, Buck White, who was hired from the same temporary crew as a weighmaster developed cancer and blew his brains out. Now that I look back, I should have figured out that something was wrong around there, it seemed like people were dying or sick all the time and then there were all the deaths over the years.
One week later, I was hired as a permanent employee at Occidental as a Bulk Handler in the shipping department at the Suwannee River Complex. My first job consisted of loading 93% pure sulfuric acid into rail-cars and trucks and then in the sulphur area. Several months later, I was promoted to supervisor.
Sulphur is shipped to the plant in solid form contained in steam jacketed rail-cars. My job was opening the rail-cars and hooking up the steam pipes to melt the sulphur. Forty-eight hours later, the sulphur was melted, and the molten sulphur was dumped into launders and then pumped into heated storage tanks. I had never heard of hydrogen sulfide and no respirators were ever given to us.
One time, I opened a dome lid and was overcome with the noxious fumes. Afraid that I would pass-out and fall onto the tracks, I laid down, rolled over and clung to the hand holds. When I finally caught my breath, I climbed down off the car. I thought it was a gas leak from one of the four sulfuric acid plants in the area. When I got home, I took off my jacket, and noticed that it was full of tiny holes.
Sulphur fires were as common as the sunrise. They usually start because sulphur fibers hanging on the open dome lids of the rail-cars produce static electricity if a slight breeze is blowing. During unloading operations, sulphur spills onto the ground. The ground around the yard is a dirty yellow. Locomotives pulling rail cars pass and ignite the sulphur on the tracks. People used to drop cigarette butts and that would set off a sulphur fire too.
The worst part about sulphur fires is that you can’t see the flame. The fires are spotted by a plume of bluish smoke, if we saw them. Otherwise, the sudden reaction of coughing, gagging and burning eyes sent everyone running for the water buckets. We didn’t have any running water so we had to grab five gallon buckets and get water from a nearby ditch.
I got tired of the sulphur fires and noxious fumes. I applied for a transfer to work as an oiler at the Swift Creek mine. I got the position on #5 dragline. Draglines are mammoth earth moving machines with forty-five yard buckets that strip-mine phosphate rock. I was happy to get away from the fumes of the sulphur plants and train yards. On dry days, the air was thick with dust at the mines, but I was so happy to be away from the fumes and acid burns, I never thought about there being any health risk at the mines. Later, I read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on all the contaminants contained in phosphate rock: cadmium, chromium, lead, uranium, silica, fluorine, mercury, etc. On pages 6 of 8 of the MSDS, I saw where cadmium and chromium cause cancer in the State of California. Guess I’m lucky to be living in Florida! According to the Florida Department of Health, those substances don’t cause cancer in our state. It must be something about the weather.
On August 16, 1979, I was promoted to shift supervisor in the Material Handling Department at the Swift Creek Complex, which was still under construction. The Swift Creek Complex was built specifically for production of phosphoric acid to meet the terms of Armand Hammer’s twenty-year trade agreement with Russia. I spent the rest of my career at the Swift Creek Complex.
To understand the nature of my exposure to toxic substances from phosphoric and sulfuric acid production, you have to appreciate the volumes we produced. Five-thousand tons of 93% pure sulfuric acid was produced each day that was used in the acidulation of phosphate rock.
The sulfuric acid is mixed with ground phosphate rock slurry where a reaction takes place producing toxic fumes, waste gypsum and about 34% phosphoric acid. The SPA (70% phosphoric acid) was so thick, so condensed that it must be kept at over 110 degrees circulate and pump. We produced 1,400 tons of phosphoric acid a day and 7,000 tons of radioactive gypsum waste. There are mountains, gyp stacks, made with the waste gypsum.
The Swift Creek Complex went on line in late 1979, and the start-up was not without problems and chemical exposures. To charge the evaporators that concentrate phosphoric acid, my department was required to unload rail-cars of phosphoric acid into an open rail-car wash sump (an open tank with a steel grate over the top). We then transferred it back to the evaporators. Fumes from the phosphoric acid were overpowering.
I was supervising a crew of day laborers who had never been in a chemical plant. Fibercast lines in overhead bridges would often blowout and spew out thousands of gallons of hot acid splashing onto the ground. Choking on the fumes and with only knee boots for protection, we waded into the hot acid. I remember dumping countless fifty pound bags of lime to neutralize the acid.
The sulfuric acid storage tanks are huge, more than thirty feet high. It is the supervisor’s task to enter the tank first and sample the air for oxygen and explosive gases. We had to enter the tanks numerous times to do spark tests, check the rubber lining and clean sulphate sludge buildups.
Sulfuric acid storage tanks would accumulate about 6 inches of sulphates on the bottoms. Again, we would company laborers to do the cleaning. It was like cleaning up after a muddy flood. We used squeegees, pushing the sludge into five gallon buckets and filled 55 gallon drums. The drums were dumped into the one-hundred acre cooling/evaporation pond.
Cleaning the tanks is a messy job. We sloshed around, ankle deep, in the acidic sulphates filling five gallon buckets. The sludge splashed all over the ground. The stuff will eat the soles off your shoes, so I had the men dump lime on the spill area and place a piece of plywood over the mess. Pretty soon the reaction of the lime with the sulfuric acid sludge started the plywood smoldering. The laborers were hopping around like chickens on a hot plate. The reaction also caused fuming and gave off sulphur dioxide that wasn’t any too pleasant.
In the sulfuric acid storage area, there was a large, brick-lined sump for transferring the acid. So much acid had been spilled in that area over the years that the ground was totally saturated. When the acid would hit the aquifer, a reaction would take place that actually pushed the earth up. We called it ‘heaving.’ ‘Heaving’ was so bad in that area that it pushed huge pumps and the sump right out of the ground. Eventually, we dug out the sump and relocated it to another area.
Occidental had us dig out the old area, but we never reached uncontaminated earth. Consequently we dumped tons of lime in the hole and covered it up. Every time it rained, pH meters in the freshwater ditches would go off, triggering red flashing lights. All the water in those ditches eventually flows into the Suwannee River. These incidents happened all over the complex.
At the south loading area, a few steps away from the office, ‘heaving’ is the worst I have ever seen at the complex. It was so bad that railroad tracks were often snapped, twisted and bent. We had rail-car accidents because heaving twisted or bent the rails. Overhead, ten-inch I-beams are bent and twisted. When the ground heaved the wrong way, acid drained away from the sump area, spilled over, ate through the walls and spilled onto the ground.
They called in contractors to clean up the contaminated soil. They dug down six feet in the ground, and syrupy, black acid still oozed from the earth.
I mentioned the rail-car wash, early on. This area was a constant source of exposure to toxic pollution: Sulfur dioxide/trioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and fluorosilicate/fluorine gases. There were two acid-brick lined ditches below the tracks to reclaim the wash. The pond water was kept hot and recycled through a high-pressure pump to wash acid and solids from the tank cars. On cold, still nights the fumes were particularly thick; they would take my breath away. Sometimes the fumes were so thick, they were blinding.
We took the heaters out and used the sump for different purposes. Sulfuric or phosphoric acid overloads, well, we would dump the excess into the sump. With the sulfuric acid, we would turn on all the safety showers and water hoses, because a violent chemical reaction was in the making.
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.
We also used to open sulphur car dome lids in the rail-car wash area. I was looking at a copy of a memo I wrote in June of 1985. I requested, in the interest of safety and productivity, that the rail-car wash be moved to a more remote location on the complex. My manager, at the time, was less than impressed and became angry after I wrote a rebuttal to his response. I saw the reality of the situation, and he did not. I think a comment I made in my rebuttal best indicates the situation: “In all candor, usually the fumes are so bad that the offices have to be evacuated anyway when the tops are being opened.” A year later when new management came to the complex, the new superintendent asked me to resubmit the plan. I did, and it was implemented. All I ever wanted was a safer and more productive workplace.
Starting with the first day we unloaded sulfur at the Swift Creek Chemical Complex, steam coils in the launders overheated. As we unloaded the molten sulfur, it ignited and set the whole place on fire. Back then we didn’t have running water and fire departments from surrounding communities responded. There were no safety showers or places to change our clothes.
Sulfur dioxide and sweat produce sulfuric acid. After I would go home and take my clothes off, I had rashes around my arm pits, knees and thighs.
Leaks from sulfuric acid plants engulfed us in clouds of sulfur dioxide. On days when the sulfuric acid plants were being maintained and repaired, they vented the sulfur dioxide directly into the air. We cautioned our people to stay inside and out of the smoke as much as possible.
In 1983, I took a shift supervisor position in the phosphoric acid evaporation and purification area. All I can say is that was the worst assignment of my working career. I had only two days training before starting work. Personally, I would not call it training. It was a supervisor harping about how screwed up the department was and how happy he was to be leaving. I came away from those sessions knowing absolutely nothing about phosphoric acid production.
Like many others in the evaporation/purification area, I seemed to stay sick all the time. We lived in acidic fumes pouring off the hot acids. So many of us developed respiratory infections, many of the workers thought it was some virus in the air. They went around the plant armed with cans of disinfectant spraying telephones, walls and air-conditioning ducts. During that year I developed some serious ear infections, a near constant upper respiratory tract infection and sebaceous cysts that had to be removed from my hand.
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.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection notifies the management prior to visiting the facility to do stack tests for pollution emissions. They had a crew of mechanics remove spray bars and drag them out onto the street. We had to beat the pipes with nine pound sledge hammers to break the solids lose. It was also common practice to pull the scrubber pad on the street and have trucks run over them to break the solidified fluorosilicates lose. All the nozzles were plugged and had to be cleaned or replaced. Nothing could have passed through them. We managed to get the pollution scrubber operational by the time inspectors showed up.
We also made Synspar, synthetic cryolite. Pond water containing about 12,000-15,000 parts per million of fluorine is mixed with hydrated lime and a polymer (flocculent). The water is spun off in a gigantic centrifuge. The Synspar paste was placed in aging tanks. Synspar attaches itself to impurities in the phosphoric acid and is strained out through large membranes covering tanks. It was common for lime reactors to overflow and flood the streets.
Walking through the area I was responsible for was a sickening experience. On the filter decks, six Volkswagen size drum filters churn, suck and spew hot acid. Stepping in front of one of the filters to see if it is binding over, I was often sprayed with a hot acid mist. Passing the hot wells venting fluorine gases, sulfur dioxide and God know what else, kept me coughing and congested all the time. Everything in the evaporation/purification area emits toxic acidic vapors. That was the worst year of my life.
As a first line supervisor, I was required to be a member of the fire fighting brigade. 1983, I became a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician for Occidental. The program was very popular at Occidental because, it was rumored, the insurance company reduced rates. I was dropped from the program in 1994 for diminished lung capacity and high blood pressure.
The problems started in 1985 when an oil line ruptured and began spraying into a turbine blower. For several weeks after the fire, my lungs burned and my throat was raw from coughing. An electrician who was called into repair damage said that wiring had burned off an automatic valve causing it to remain open and saturate the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide.
We were instructed to use sulfur dioxide canisters attached to full face respirators when fighting fires on the sulfur pad. However, the canisters were clearly marked not for fighting fires.
For a number of years, I also used to ride ‘the stack once every working shift with my process water operator. The gypsum stacks on the east end of the property have the appearance of a mountain range. There must be hundreds of millions of tons radioactive gyp-wastes there. When they did a hair analysis on me for radium exposure, I was pretty hot according to the test results.
There are many other toxic materials in those gyp-stacks like lead, arsenic, aluminum, fluorides and by-products from sulfuric acid production. We used to toss most anything we wanted to get rid of in the evaporation ponds atop those gyp-stacks.
When I worked with Gary Pittman, he used to take a chicken leg from his lunch and set it in the pond water. The water was so acidic, the next day, Gary would pull out a bleached bone.
I recall two separate occasions when my Jeep and other vehicles were heavily damaged by fluorine emissions from the phosphoric acid plant. Being naive and unaware of the serious ramifications of the first incident, I casually stated at a meeting that my Jeep had white spots all over it and the windshield looked like frosted glass. My supervisor hushed me up and hurried me out of the room, saying, there had been a scrubber failure. He said that people who had damage to their vehicles should contact security and fill out a damage claim. I was told not to discuss the incident with anyone, but someone did a poor job of keeping the secret. Rumor had it that over $40,000 was paid out.
Occidental got a little smarter after the next scrubber failure. They had the insurance adjuster come out and offer everyone $200 on the spot to have their vehicle buffed. I had two estimates, both body men said that buffing wouldn’t work because the damage was too deep.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and even more especially since Occidental sold the complex to Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS), the focus of shipping has dramatically changed. They load more single rail-cars than unit trains. We loaded 750 tons on a unit train whereas we only load 98 tons on a single car. The margin of error is greater, more overfills, more dumping of phosphoric acid into sumps and more exposure to toxic fumes.
Standing in the shipping office looking south, there is a mountain of wet phosphate a few hundred yards away. I don’t know the whole procedure, but phosphate is floated out of the dirt with fatty acids, sulfuric acid and ammonia. The phosphate is moved to the evaporation plant via overhead conveyor belts. It was always dripping whitish liquid. These droppings would ruin the paint job on a car and etch the windshield glass which was often replaced.
During my career at Occidental, I was always safety conscious and received many commendations from management. I was requested to write the manual and direct a safety video on unloading sulphur cars. However, I really didn’t understand the nature of other substances to which we were being exposed every day and the mixed exposures. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control put out a National Occupational Research Agenda bulletin in 1998 titled Mixed Exposures. It said, Research has shown that physiologic interactions from some mixed chemicals can lead to an increase in the severity of the harmful effect. For example, exposure to noise and the solvent toluene results in two to three-times-higher risk of hearing loss than either component alone . . . to evaluate possible synergistic effects, laboratory studies of physiologic interactions at the target organs are needed, as are improved animal models for extrapolation to humans.
In my case, I was exposed primarily to sulphates and sulfites, but there were also numerous contaminants in the air like fluorosilicates, fluorine gases, phosphates and the other chemicals related to phosphoric acid production. In addition to many physical problems I have developed, my immune system does not work properly, and it hasn’t for some time.
The emergency medical teams at the complex were required to take hepatitis B immunization. A test was done on me to see if the immunization was taking. The test indicated that I had no immunity after taking the series of shots. The company nurse gave me two more shots, and tests still showed no immunity. At that time she refused to give me any more shots without written orders from my physician.
Staring into the computer screen, writing this, I know that people can only see who I was. In this room, my room, the walls and display cases drip with American Indian artifacts. I ‘ve walked, dived and dug for them. I have open water and cave diving certification. One wall is filled with framed maps and money from Australia, Belize, Norway, Turkey, Israel, Mexico, Guatemala, and Egypt. On another wall is rattlesnake hides. I used to catch them and drown them in water so there would be no holes marring the skins.
My most prized possessions are on my Israel wall: A Jewish flag given to me by an eight-year-old girl, the shoulder patch and rank insignia of a Patriot Missile soldier, Sergeant Randy Rankin, cut from his sleeve the night the war ended. Mike Norris and I joined the volunteers for Israel during the Gulf War. We paid our own way over and used one month vacation time.
Along with a Jewish fireman, Lt. Dan Felton, from Miramar Beach, we made history being the only Volunteers for Israel ever (at our insistence) to be assigned to a war zone. Mike and I were also the only Gentiles there. We spent three weeks with the Tel Aviv fire department. I have a home there. This was affirmed when we went back to Israel to be honored for our service. Commendations signed by General Davidi and Aaron Eshel (the fire chief) also hang on my Israel wall. I ate at Eshel’s house and visited his community bomb shelter.
Now, I know those days are over. I know that if I go out and mow the lawn, I am going to suffer for it. Diving is out of the question. I’m just not the person I used to be, and it’s kind of hard to adjust to that.
The primary pollutants Jesse Nash was exposed to were sulphur products, byproducts, fluorosilicates and radionuclides. In Patty’s Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology, Vol. 2. 1993, sulfur oxides are noted as having a major impact on the quality of life. Nash was routinely exposed to levels of sulfur dioxide as high as 1280 parts per million (ppm) and possibly even higher (these are considered lethal doses). 400 to 500 ppm exposure are rated as an immediate danger to life. According to government standards 100 ppm can only be tolerated for about one hour before injury occurs, and 20ppm can cause chronic respiratory symptoms.
Page 810, Patty’s Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology, Sulfur dioxide may also act as a cancer promoter. The mortality of arsenic smelter workers exposed to 1ppm or more was higher when they had also been exposed to sulfur dioxide (ref. 93). Additionally, rats exposed to 3.5-10 ppm of sulfur dioxide developed squamous cell carcinomas from inhalation of benzol [a]pryene, but neither compound alone produced carcinomas under the condition of this experiment (ref. 94). Jesse had a basil cell carcinoma removed from his face in 1996.
Hydrogen sulfide is extremely toxic to humans. Several case studies noted neuropsychological dysfunctions that were characterized by impairment of memory, psychomotor, and perceptual abilities in individuals exposed to hydrogen sulfide. Also, heart and respiratory problems have been detected.
Jesse Nash suffers with nearly every adverse health effect associated with exposure to sulfur oxides and hydrogen sulfide. He was exposed to numerous toxic chemicals and toxic metals. Occidental Chemical Corporation and the law firm of Holland and Knight claim that none of the toxic substances could have caused Jesse Nash’s condition. However, Nash’s medical records read like textbook cases of chemical poisoning.
All the accounts by the men in this compilation clearly show that they were exposed to toxic chemicals during their careers at Occidental. Each also exhibits classic symptoms of chemical poisoning.
WIVES ARE VICTIMS TOO
My name is Jo Ann. I have been married to Jesse Nash for almost 34 years. We have been through a lot during those years, mostly good and of course some bad.
Jesse is a very special person, and I am so grateful that we have each other. We are so very different, and yet, we know each other’s thoughts. Back in June of 1996, after we finally found that Jesse’s health problems were caused by chemical poisoning, and he had used all his vacation time. Jesse called Occidental/PCS. He told them what we had discovered. 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 conference room table where they sat and discussed 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 the offered him was unpaid medical leave.
Jesse worked for Occidental/PCS for almost eighteen years when he had to take medical leave; that was 22 months ago. He had taken out a disability insurance when he was promoted to supervisor. He wanted to make sure that his family was taken care of in case of an accident or illness. We are still waiting for our first check.
I used to own and operate the Nash Quail Farm. I started raising Bobwhite Quail back in 1984. I found that I had developed an allergy to the birds’ dust, feathers and feed. I was taking allergy shots every four days. In June of 1997, I had to give up my business. Since then, I haven’t had any luck in finding steady employment. I am fifty-four years old and work part-time as an independent contractor demonstrating goods in grocery stores, 2-3 days a month.
Jesse had always worked and supported his family. Now that he is unable to work, he has been under unbelievable stress because of our financial situation, and he feels useless and inadequate. If he had not been the “macho type,” maybe things would be easier; I don’t really know.
If he does any activity, Jesse pays the price. His joints swell. Every morning when he wakes up, his right eye is so swollen, its shut. Jesse can only see a little out of his left eye. Sometimes, his face is swollen all day, and other days, he is normal after a few hours. He suffers with headaches and chronic fatigue all the time. We used to be so grateful that Occidental/PCS provided him with a good paying job. Now, I wish he had never gone to work there.
Our two children are grown, but our daughter moved back in with us in the summer of 1996. She had become ill with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. He immune system is very poor. She and her husband were divorced because he could not deal with her illness; he has never had a headache.
I am not sure what caused Jessica’s illness, but sometimes I wonder. I wonder about the residue Jesse brought home on his ski and clothes. Jessica was always wearing one of his work jackets when she was a teenager. After she was married, she would wear his jacket when visiting us during cold weather. The sad part is that Jesse and Jessica were to caring and fun loving people. They were energetic and intelligent people. They’re not like that anymore. All three of us suffer from short term memory loss.
These days, I do most of the driving because it is unnerving for Jesse. He gets embarrassed because his memory is getting worse, and he worries about what is going to happen next.
We looked forward to his retiring at 65 and planned on traveling. Now, I worry about the mortgage payment, buying groceries and paying the bills.
Thank God. Jesse was approved for his Social Security disability, last year. When the first check arrived, we were so happy. It gave us hope, and we knew that ITT-Hartford would come through with disability insurance, but we are still waiting.
Presently, we are in trouble with our credit cards because we had to live off them for a while. I kept borrowing money every month to pay the credit card bills, and finally, I realized that had to stop.
We went to workman’s compensation mediation in September of 1998, but it was continued until December. I want to pay the credit cards off, but I can’t do that until Jesse is paid his disability insurance or workman’s compensation.
I know we shouldn’t complain, there are people who have more problems, but some days I wonder if I can keep enduring the feeling of shame and bewilderment.
We are still waiting for resolution, and Jesse has received no medical treatment for his health problems.
Our daughter and son live on our property. Jessica has married to young man she met at a support group meeting.
Thank God for family.
Jo Ann Nash
In May of 1993, Billy was laid off from Occidental Chemical Corporation. In August, he was called back to work, and in September, the first symptoms of leukemia appeared.
Billy has always been the type of person who is up early in the morning and goes to bed around eleven. But in September, during a plant overhaul, Billy was working ten hour shifts. He would come home and go right to bed. This went on for several weeks until I finally became worried and asked him if everything was all right. Billy said that he felt tired all the time.
Being tired all the time was strange for Billy. He was sick at his stomach, had headaches and was 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, Saturday, November 13, Billy said that he couldn’t take it anymore, he needed to see a doctor. I rushed him to the emergency room where he was immediately admitted for severe anemia 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 could not find anything wrong with Billy.
Billy’s doctor prescribed of vitamin B12 and folic acid once a day for a year. When I went to have the prescription for B12 filled, 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 was not getting any better. His white blood cell count was rising. We were told to see Dr. Vernon Montoya in Gainesville, Florida. The doctor examined him and had blood drawn. After waiting several hours, Dr. Montoya called us in and he asked Billy how he managed to walk into the office with such a low red blood cell count.
Dr. Montoya told me to take Billy to North Florida Hospital and be admitted. They gave him a transfusion of three units of blood, and they did a bone marrow biopsy. Dr. Montoya told us the results would take a few days, but he never told us what he suspected. A few days later, the phone rang and I answered it. The nurse asked to speak with Mr. Baldwin, so I handed Billy the telephone.
Dr. Montoya told him to come to his office at nine the next morning because they needed to talk. Upon hearing Billy make the appointment, I took the telephone and asked what was wrong. Dr. Montoya said we would discuss the situation in the morning. I was worried and persuaded the doctor to tell me what was wrong with Billy. Reluctantly, Dr. Montoya told me that he had the leukemia, the worst type, AML. It broke my heart, but I never told Billy. I waited for the doctor to tell Billy because I could not bear to tell him such bad news.
Somehow, I didn’t want to believe this was happening to us, but when we went to Dr. Montoya’s office, he said that if Billy didn’t get help soon, it would be too late. I don’t think that anyone can imagine what those words did to us. Billy had always been healthy and robust. He liked to work around the house, raise chickens, fish, hunt and do things with our children. With those words knew those days were over, maybe forever.
We discussed treatments and Dr. Montoya said Billy could get better, but he needed to go to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida where they specialized in treating cancers. Dr. Montoya proceeded to call Shands where Billy was admitted for chemotherapy on December 27, 1993.
For two years after that day, our lives became a living hell. I was also working for a nursing home in the dietary department. I had to clock-in at five in the morning and work till one in the afternoon. Then I went home, tossed a load of laundry in the machine, fed the chickens and dog, took a shower, and drove about forty-five miles to Shands. I would stay until eight or nine at night, go home, finish the laundry, get a few hours sleep, get up at three-thirty in the morning and do it all over again the next day. On weekends, I would stay at Shands with Billy, we would walk from one end of the hospital to the other pushing his I.V. It was like that, off and on again, for almost three years.
Billy improved, so they let him come home on January 25, 1994 for a few weeks. When we went to the doctor for a checkup, his white blood cell count was very high. This meant the first round of chemotherapy didn’t work. Billy had to go back to Shands for a second round of chemotherapy. The nurses called it the “kick ass” treatment. Believe me that is exactly what it was. The treatment made Billy so sick, it was unreal. His fevers were so high that they had to pack Billy in ice. This is when I became a nurse without a license. I had to learn how to change the dressings, draw blood from the I.V. line, give injections, and everything else that went along with home health care. After the first few months, I knew more about blood cells than most doctors. I caught on quick, but that was only the beginning.
Many times, I remember leaving the hospital at night and cried all the way from Gainesville to Lake City, because there was nothing I could do to help Billy. I felt totally helpless.
After thirty-three days, Billy came home from Shands, and for once, I thought things were going to get better. But when Billy was going through the second round of chemotherapy, the doctors began talking about the possibility of a bone marrow transplant. At first, Billy didn’t want to have a bone marrow transplant done. Then he asked me what I thought, and I said that it was his decision.
Billy had befriended a young fellow named Jimmy at Shands. He had six children. Jimmy had leukemia, too and had been through the routine like Billy. He decided against having a bone marrow transplant. Jimmy’s leukemia remission didn’t last, and he never left the hospital. That is what changed Billy’s mind.
On May of 1994, he went back to Shands for more chemotherapy. He came home for awhile because the leukemia was in remission. He began preparing for a transplant in June. Billy’s older brother’s bone marrow matched, which was very lucky. At that point the doctors began testing him for any problem imaginable to make sure he could undergo the transplant.
They even gave Billy psychological testing. About half way through, he said, “These damned psychological tests are not going to save my life, my brother is.” He never finished the psychological tests.
On June 21, he went into Shands for the transplant, and it was pure hell. His hair fell out again. His mouth turned inside-out. He couldn’t talk because a chunk of flesh was hanging out of his mouth. All Billy could do was point to what he wanted. Aside from being depressing, I think I was more frustrated because there was nothing I could do to make things easier for Billy.
Billy was at Shands for eight long weeks. He had to wash out of a pan with sterile water. His only exercise was riding a stationary bicycle and there was no space to move about in his room.
I walked into the room one morning and he was covered from head to toe with a rash. I became worried and asked the doctor what was wrong. The doctor said that it was “graft versus host disease,” which meant his body was rejecting the other bone marrow transplant. I thought, “what’s going to happen next?”
The doctors began give Billy high doses of steroids. His mouth was still swollen, so he couldn’t eat, so they had fed him intravenously. They called it his meat and potatoes. He also had a bag of white stuff that looked like shortening to supplement his fats.
One day, he began complaining of headaches. Later in the evening, the headaches became so bad that I stayed with him later than usual. I left the hospital about ten that evening. About two in the morning, the telephone rang. Upon waking, I knew it was about Billy and thought. It was his doctor. He said that Billy had a seizure and his brain was swelling. Getting dressed, I could only wonder if things could be any worse.
By the time I arrived at the hospital, he had lost his eyesight. They said it was temporary and caused by the seizure. But nurses were staying with Billy around the clock. All I remember was being totally exhausted. The next thing I remembered was waking up in the chair beside his bed.
After a few days, the swelling began to subside. Everything seemed to be slowing down. We had a few good days, and the doctors said Billy would be able to go home soon. His red blood cell count was rising, and we thought everything was going to be all right. Then he contracted a CMV virus. The virus had to be treated or it would have killed Billy. Again we were devastated. It seemed we were back to square one and starting all over again.
Again the doctors started Billy on I.V. medications. His blood count went up and down like a roller coaster for the next few days, and the fevers would come and go. I often wondered if we were going to make it through the ordeal. Every day brought something new, different and most often disturbing.
Finally, Billy was going to come home, but it was only out of the hospital to transplant housing facility. We had to be within five minutes of the hospital in case something went wrong. I had to draw blood every morning and take it to the hospital. They ran tests to see if Billy needed red blood platelets. The Home Health people taught me how to hook up I.V.’s and flush the lines. Billy had to learn how to walk and hold a spoon without shaking. He had to hold onto the wall to take a shower while I bathed him.
Billy came home at the end of November. Our youngest daughter, Stacy, was about to be married in January of 1995. Billy was supposed to walk her down the isle. Fortunately we got a break. He didn’t have to be hooked up to I.V.’s on the weekend, and Stacy was going to be married on Saturday. Billy was going to have to wear a mask with his tuxedo, but Stacy didn’t mind as long as her father was at her side. He never got to walk Stacy down the isle. He was back in the hospital with pneumonia, another two weeks at Shands. It seemed like we were permanent fixtures at Shands. I knew the layout better than I knew my own house.
Billy came back home again to home health care. He began to lose weight. The graft versus host disease (GVH) has spread to his digestive tract. He told the doctors, but they dismissed his complaints. Billy was so malnourished and skinny; I could count his ribs. I became fed up and took him back to Shands. The doctors finally listened to us, did some tests and found that the GVH had spread to Billy’s digestive system. They put a feeding tube through his nostril, down the back of Billy’s throat and into his stomach. Again I was learning something new to do with my spare time.
After that ordeal, it seemed like everything was smoothing out. Billy was still on drugs, but life seemed to normalize somewhat. By 1996, Billy finally came off the drugs: what a great day! No more I.V.’s, lines to flush, dressings to change and no more pills. Today, Billy is in remission. Although we have had some minor problems, my Billy is all right for now. I hope he stays that way for a long time.
Note: Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, the corporation that bought out Occidental is presently building another chemical complex not a quarter-mile from Charlotte and Billy Baldwin’s home.
I am going to tell you my story about how Clinton and I feel about this whole thing.
We were married in 1966 and have two children. Our life was normal. We were always going places and doing something. Sometimes, twice a year, we traveled to the mountains. We dreamed about buying a small place there when the children were grown. Our son graduated from high school in 1984, and we thought that would be our chance.
In 1983, Clinton went to the doctor and was told his liver enzyme levels were out of range. That news halted everything; our world was put on hold. When the people at Occidental Chemical saw the report, they put Clinton in another department away from the chemicals.
In 1984, he had to have a liver biopsy that revealed toxic problems. At that time, he was still in another department. Becoming worried, Occidental sent the test results to their doctor in Niagra Falls, New York for review. He said there was nothing to be alarmed about and something else had caused Clinton’s problems. They sent him back to the laboratory. The doctor then wrote the supervisors to hush up the incident (we have hand written letters confirming the incident).
While Clinton was still under doctors’ care in 1984, we took a trip to the mountains. We met a man who had some property to sell. It was almost straight up the side of a mountain, and Clinton walked up without any problems. By 1988, he began to be tired all the time. He had trouble getting up in the morning. Clinton would have to set the alarm clock for four-thirty in the morning to be at work by seven. It took him at least an hour-and-a-half to get out of bed. It wasn’t laziness; he didn’t have any energy. He began to fall about this time; he could be standing still and fall.
Our son married in 1988 and our granddaughter was born in 1992. Clinton has never played with her, or cuddled her when she was crying, because he can’t. This is heartbreaking for Clinton, and our granddaughter wonders why her grand daddy can’t romp around on the floor with her.
In 1989, I became ill and finally had a heart attack, and now, I am also disabled.
In 1990, Clinton went to my doctor in Gainesville who diagnosed him with muscular dystrophy. We believed the diagnosis until we discovered that Gary Pittman was diagnosed with the same symptoms including muscle weakness, no energy and irregular heart beat. All the symptoms were identical.
We began to think about the similarity of symptoms in 1993 when both Clinton and Gary were out of work. I went to our small library and picked up a book about toxic chemicals. All the chemicals and symptoms Clinton and Gary had were cited in the book. Occidental had to have known that they were poisoning those people, the information was common knowledge to people in that business.
Later, we went to a lawyer who seemed very interested and took our cases. Other lawyers in the area advised him not to take our cases, so he backed off. After we hired a workman’s compensation lawyer in Ocala, he wanted back into the picture and filed our case on February 27, 1997, before he thought our four-year statute of limitation ran out. Our case went to Federal court and was not denied; the judge must have thought the suite had merit. When the case went to Federal court, the lawyer dropped us like hot potatoes. We were left out of the Coker/Boyer toxic tort law suit. They said we couldn’t join until the case was released from Federal court and when it was cleared up, we could join in the law suit.
Here we are, two years later, and they have told us three different stories as to why we can’t join in the law suit. At the time, we were upset and depressed, but it doesn’t matter now, because I think, in the end, all involved will have to answer for what they have done to others (including Boyer/Coker and Ferro).
People I have talked with act caring, but unless something like this happens in your family or friends, it’s impossible to know the heartache and worry. The worst part is that family and friends we thought cared never call to see how things are going.
As for myself and Clinton, we take things one day at a time. Most days are spent sitting around the house. Clinton is too tired, hurts all over, or has bad headaches to do anything. Sometimes, he can’t remember what he did or where he put something five minutes ago. Occidental/PCS owe the people they made ill. The worst part is that many of those people who worked for Occidental have no idea what made them sick, or their families don’t know what killed their loved ones. I know their lives are as bad or worse than ours.
At times, it is very depressing to see someone I loved and cared about for thirty-four years sickly. The most depressing part is that there is nothing I can do to make Clinton’s life any better. I hope this letter will help you (and us), and we greatly appreciate all that you have done.
Hope to meet you soon.
Good Bless you,
Sometimes, it is very difficult living with Gary. He has mood swings and lapses into depression because of his health problems. He also has memory loss because of being poisoned by chemicals at Occidental Chemical Corporation. He will lay something down and forget where it is. Then he will accuse me of misplacing his things. He has fallen and hurt himself many times. He stumbles and bruises himself. On Christmas morning, one year, he fell and knocked one of his front teeth out. I contend with all the problems hour by hour because I love Gary. I know that it is not his fault.
When I first met Gary Pittman, he was so full of life. He had many friends, and people loved to be around him. I loved being around Gary. Whenever he called, I always made the time to see him. We fell in love. We had dreams and bright hopes for the future. Two years later we were married and started a family.
After we were married, we moved onto a piece of land on his father’s farm. It was nothing more than a plowed field. Gary would work at the chemical plant all day, come home and work around the house. Even on his days off, Gary was always working in the yard, planting trees, grass and leveling the land. He always had a fine vegetable garden, tilled and tended with hand tools. He was always on the go. Gary was healthy, felt good and the hardest working person I ever met.
Before long we had a beautiful home and our first born, a daughter, Scarlett. We were a family. It seemed like we always did fun things together: listened to music, barbecued food and lounged around in the hot tub that Gary installed. About that time, his oldest daughter, Nicole, from a previous marriage came to live with us. We enjoyed each other and enjoyed life. Gary was a good husband, father and provided good life for his family.
It wasn’t long before strange things began happening to Gary. In 1986, he developed a nasty rash. Large, round, red circles covered his back, arms and hands. The rash seemed to crawl from his back onto his stomach. The itching was intolerable, and he would ask me to rub lotion on him. Finally, the rash became so bad that I thought Gary was going to be scarred. I told him that he needed to see a doctor. Fortunately, there was a doctor living down the road from us, and Gary called him.
Upon checking the rash, the doctor said that he didn’t know the cause, but it looked like an allergic reaction or mycotic infection. He prescribed some lotion and medication which helped. The rash cleared up.
Shortly after that episode, Gary’s right hand became swollen and very painful. Again, he went to the doctor. They did X-rays of his hand and said it was a hairline fracture. This was strange because Gary didn’t remember doing anything to hurt his hand. We both brushed the incident off and forgot about it.
About 1989, we bought a house on the golf course. The price was right, and the home was perfect for a growing family. Brittany, our second daughter, was born shortly after we were settled in our new home. We lived on the number three fairway and times were good for us. Gary always got good performance evaluations at Occidental which meant pay raises and promotions.
We had wonderful times together as a family, but they didn’t last. In 1991, Gary became very weak and fatigued; he lost about twenty pounds and looked drained. We didn’t know what was wrong. He finally went to the doctor, he ran tests, but couldn’t find anything. The doctor thought the problem might be Lyme’s disease, but tests were negative. Being at a loss, he prescribed antibiotics.
After two weeks off from work, he began to feel better. We went out and bought new pants for work because he had lost so much weight. Still not felling well, Gary went back to work because he was afraid he would lose his job at Occidental. After returning to work, his health seemed to improve, Gary never seemed the same after that. He was always tired. Worried about his health, I would tell him not to push, but he never listened to me.
I would wake up around five in the morning and make his lunch, giving Gary an extra twenty minutes to sleep. Every morning, he would say, “I would give a hundred dollars for some more rest.” He seemed so tired, but Gary kept on working. He was loyal to Occidental and dutifully went to work every day.
February 9, 1993, Gary came home from work early. He was sick, vomiting for about half hour 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 any symptoms.
The next morning, I went into labor 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 was worried that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the house.
He took vacation time because of the birth of our James and his sickness. After several weeks off from work, he felt better and went back to work. Three months later, Gary came straight home from work and went to bed, and that is where the nightmare began for me. He said his lower legs and feet were killing him. The next morning, he called the foot doctor. The doctor referred him to a regular medical doctor because something else was causing the foot problems. The medical doctor did blood tests and an E.K.G. He told Gary that he had a heart attack but it was some time ago because the scar was old. That news almost killed me. I was afraid and apprehensive for our family. We had four children, and I didn’t know if they would have a daddy, or I would have a husband much longer.
Two days later, his legs were still hurting, and he was also having chest pains. I wasted no time in taking him to the emergency room. There, they monitored his heart and did more blood tests. After several hours, the doctor came out and told me that Gary’s C.P.K., isoenzyme levels were off the scale. The level was over 5,000 and normal was between 100-200. Gary was given a medication for the pain. Then we were told to see our regular doctor as soon as possible.
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 Gary’s blood test results, 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 indicated that Gary had autoimmune disease, polymytosites (simultaneous inflammation of many muscles), and that the blood tests proved the diagnosis. The doctor said that if he could get the C.P.K. down, he could get the muscle disease under control. The only problem was that Gary would never be the same.
We were both in a state of shock from that news. Gary was so; he could barely sit up for his medications. Afterwards, he would lay back down on the sofa. Fortunately, the girls were at school during the day. It was James, Gary and me at home. At times, the pain became so intolerable, he could not stand the slightest aggravation. I would have to take James into a bedroom and watch television and play. This was a very sad and lonely time for me and the children.
At first, we went to the doctors about every six weeks. Every time we talked with the doctor, he told us something else was wrong with Gary. One doctor said that Gary had emphysema, but not to worry. If he couldn’t get the muscle disease under control, Gary wouldn’t live long enough for the emphysema to kill him. After visits like that, I felt like we had gone to hell. The ride home was quiet and seemed like an eternity, but somehow, we always felt like things would get better. The doctor said Gary was suffering with nonspecific myopathy, polyarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, irregular heart beat, and high blood pressure, and he was only thirty-nine years old.
In 1995, we decided to ask for a second opinion and I took Gary to Tifton, Georgia and consulted with another specialist. All the doctor told us was that Gary had myopathy (muscle disease) and suggested we go to Duke University if possible. If we could not afford to go to Duke, the doctor suggested that Gary keep seeing the same doctor. Having proper tests done at Duke University was too expensive, and we had the children to worry about.
Later, the doctor in Gainesville told Gary that he had reached the “maximum medical improvement” and suggested he talk to the company about going back to work. However, the doctor did not give him a medical release to go back to work. Gary went and spoke with the human resources director about returning to work in some capacity. He was told flatly that he could not return to work in his condition and taking the medications that had been prescribed.
Gary’s doctor in Valdosta, Georgia did chest X-rays and pulmonary breathing tests. The X-rays showed blisters on his lungs with some fibrotic changes. The lung doctor told him that his lungs were very bad for a thirty-nine old man. He then asked Gary where he worked and what they made. Gary told the doctor about the fumes and chemicals he worked around. The doctor said that Gary’s condition had to be work related and put it in the report. Gary asked him not to enter the information on the medical report because he intended to go back to work. The doctor told us that he had to include Gary’s condition in the report because it was true.
Then Gary went back to the cardiologist and told him what the respiratory doctor said, but he avoided talking about his lung problems. The most interesting aspect of our visits to the doctors was that when we brought up the possibility of chemical poisoning, none of them wanted to discuss the subject. One doctor even told us, “You don’t want to go there.” He would become very nervous every time we mentioned the potential of chemical poisoning.
Another doctor even told Gary that he would be blackballed from the industry, and he would never get a job anywhere. Gary was unable to work anyway, so it didn’t matter.
Finally, we filed a toxic tort lawsuit against Occidental. Gary was very depressed at that time. He didn’t want to sue Occidental. He was deeply hurt to realize that the company he loved and put the better of twenty years had poisoned him. He would tell me over and over that we had to do something to help the others. Gary wanted to help those people who didn’t know what was happening to them.
Gary became so depressed, he started to see a psychiatrist. He thought it might help to talk to someone who could help, a professional. The psychiatrist diagnosed him with “reactive depression and prescribed antidepressants. Gary often became so depressed, he told me he wanted to die because he had so many problems. I always told him that he couldn’t die because I needed a husband and the children needed a daddy.
Of course, there were money problems. Gary was drawing 60% of his wages from a long-term disability insurance policy. We had to sell our home on the golf course, move back on the farm and start all over again.
There were times when his feet and lower legs would swell so bad, Gary would be bedridden for weeks at a time. The pain was intolerable. I remember hearing him talk to himself late at night and the early morning. The only way he could go to the bathroom was to drag himself across the floor. When he was that bad off, I would load the wheelchair into the car. I would get Gary’s seventy-three year old father, and we would carry him to the car. We would drive to Gainesville where I would help him into the wheelchair, push him into the doctor’s office. They would give Gary steroids and pain killers. By the time we arrived at the doctor’s office, Gary would tell me that his feet were so swollen, he couldn’t feel the pain anymore. Sometimes, it looked like his feet were about to rot off.
By 1996, we had done extensive research on the chemicals used at Occidental and what they did to the body. We learned that Gary’s symptoms and health problems were identical to those stated in the books, but we needed proof. We found a doctor in Dallas, Texas that specialized in industrial toxicology. Wasting no time, we contacted a coworker who had the same health problems as Gary and with his wife we drove to Dallas.
The doctor reviewed all Gary’s medical records then took blood and hair samples for testing. Next, he underwent a brain spectroanalysis to determine if there was any brain damage. When the results of blood and hair analyses came back, they showed toxic chemicals present. The brain spectroanalysis showed neurotoxic exposure with some brain damage. The diagnosis was “toxic brain syndrome.”
No sooner than we got back from Dallas, Gary had to have cysts removed from his buttocks, twice. Later, he had to have a cyst removed from behind his ear. The doctor said he had blood poisoning.. All of the episodes were very painful.
Gary would have attacks of irregular heartbeat. Every time, it was a trip to the emergency room. We finally requested copies of the readouts so there would be proof. Sometime, the attacks were so bad that he would almost pass out.
We never knew what was going to happen next. I remember one time when Gary’s feet were swelling again. I took James to my mother’s house. When I arrived at my mother’s house, my father told me to hurry home. Gary had fallen and broke one of his toes. Arriving home, I loaded his wheelchair into the car, and got his father to help me carry Gary out. It was another day sitting in the emergency room, and then off to Gainesville for steroids and pain killers.
Gary’s memory was steadily getting worse. He seemed to be doing all right and decided to drive into Live Oak. He wanted to get out and buy some smoked sausage for supper. He was gone much longer than usual. When he got home, he looked a little strange. Gary told me that he got lost and didn’t recognize the surroundings. The incident scared me and Gary because it was just up the road. Another time, he became upset when we were driving to Lake City. He insisted that I pull off the road and wait until he could get his bearings. These episodes last anywhere between five and twenty minutes.
These days, he doesn’t go anywhere alone. I drive Gary everywhere because he feels like the car is still and the road is coming up on him. It gives him an eerie feeling.
We eventually went to another doctor in Tampa for a second opinion. He said that toxic myopathy could not be ruled out because of Gary’s workplace exposure to toxic substances. I believe his whole body has been poisoned and he is lucky to be alive. Both mentally and physically, he was a very strong man. He had to be. Otherwise, Gary would not have survived everything that has happened to him.
These days, we don’t go anywhere except to the doctors’ and lawyers’ offices. I do the errands because Gary is always in pain.
We come from good stock and were raised to do what we think is right regardless of what people think. Most of the people in Hamilton County either work at the phosphate mines or have family working there. It used to be that people would visit us all the time, but since we filed the lawsuit, they don’t come around any more. Sometimes, it seems that people go out of their way to avoid us. This hurts Gary and me because we have known most of those people all our lives. It’s hard on the children, but they support us; they love their daddy.
It took courage to stand up to Occidental, it is a huge corporation. The management at Occidental knew exactly what they were doing to the workers; they were poisoning them. They told the workers that they were breathing “harmless vapors.” I intend to fight them with my body and soul for what they did to my husband and our family. We all intend to see that the next person who goes to work at the mines trying to earn an honest living isn’t poisoned to death.
Karen and Bobby Hobby
Both Karen and Bobby Hobby worked at the Hamilton County, Florida, Occidental Chemical Complexes. On January 23, 1998, Bobby Hobby died of Multiple Myeloma, a bone cancer. About 13,500 people per year develop the cancer and African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to contract the disease than other ethnic groups and males are 1.5 times as likely to develop Myeloma that females. Generally, the cancer affects the older population; however, the recent trend indicated that the younger population is being affected. Professor Brian Durie, said in Myeloma Today, December 1993, “The recent trend toward younger patients in some populations implies that environmental factors are more important in the 1990′s.” Myeloma is a terminal disease.
I began working at the occidental Swift Creek Complex in 1987. I met Bobby there, we began to date and were married on February 11, 1989. We had three children, Kevin, Amanda and Nicholas.
I worked at Occidental until 1992 when I was laid-off. I was a helper at the Swift Creek Purification complex doing everything from cleaning to changing filters. Most of the time, the fumes were so bad, the pores on my face felt like they were on fire. We seldom had proper equipment to work with.
We had to change the filters, once a day, handling the acid saturated filters with leather gloves instead of acid resistant rubber gloves. Sometimes, I would ask Bobby to get me rubber gloves because when I asked my supervisor, he would say they were not in the budget.
When I first went to work at Occidental, my hair was a sandy-brown, but before long the acidic fumes caused it to change color. It was a splotched orange to begin with, and I dyed it to match and then it turned green. For a few months I was running around with orange and green hair. I finally wore a hat until my hair went back went back to normal. It was the acid in the air reacting with the hair rinses and coloring that caused the change in colors.
Bobby’s last job at Occidental was doing maintenance at the Suwannee River Complex. He had to maintain and fix equipment in every department. He was a very dedicated employee and never refused overtime. He was called in for emergency repairs at all hours and even on holidays, almost never turned his supervisor down. I remember the last Christmas he worked (1995), he was supposed to have the day off, but they called him and Bobby headed out the door. I said that he needed to be home with me and the children on Christmas. Especially, for the children while they were young.
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. When Bobby finally went to his primary care doctor, he only found a few slipped disks. Eventually, he went to see a neurologist who found a broken vertebrate. Because of the accident, the neurologist ordered an MRI scan. Still believing the injury was from the accident, he told us to prepare for the worst possible case scenario; it was possible that the vertebrate 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 tumor inside the bone and that is what caused the break. The doctor referred us to a specialist. After the consultation, Bobby was admitted into the hospital for a bone biopsy (this was also the first day of school for the children). They did a battery of tests including a bone biopsy; the diagnosis was Multiple Myeloma. The survival rate was about 2-3 years, and there was no cure.
On September 9, 1996, Bobby underwent surgery to replace the broken vertebrate in his back. There was no guarantee that Bobby would ever walk again because the tumor was directly on his spinal cord. The surgery was supposed to take twelve hours, but it only lasted six. Bobby was in the hospital for one-and-a-half weeks. When he came home, Bobby needed twenty-four hour care. He was in an upper body brace and a wheel chair. He would try to walk some, but it was difficult and very painful for him. I had to bath and take care of him all the time. One time he passed out in the bathroom. That lasted for about six months.
He began radiation treatments before the surgery. Afterwards, they started Bobby on chemotherapy. At first, the treatments were once a month. He was admitted into the hospital for about a week, and after a week at home, Bobby was back in the hospital sick again. The situation was like that until the bone marrow transplant.
Bobby’s transplant donor could only be a brother or sister or self, no anonymous donors. It turned out that his brother and sister were not matches, so the only choice was a self stem cell transplantation. He was given medication to boost his stem cell count, then Bobby spent three days hooked up to a machine to collect his stem cells.
For eight days, he went through heavy chemotherapy, and on the tenth day, they did the transplant. The procedure was new at Shands, and Bobby was the first person undergo the treatment. He stayed at Shands for another week or so. Since we did not live far from the hospital; they let Bobby go home. I took him in for laboratory tests and to receive transfusions, every day.
He continued to see the oncologist once a month for therapy which was supposed to straighten his bones. But on December 27, 1997, Bobby was admitted back into Shands with pneumonia because of heavy chemotherapy after the operation. Two weeks later, he broke his left leg because the cancer had weakened the bone.
Bobby’s bone marrow transplant was not successful, it seemed that the cancer was even more active than before. On January 23, 1998, Bobby lost his battle with cancer. He left behind three children: Kevin, 12, Amanda, 8, and Nicholas, 3, and nine months later we are still trying to pick up the pieces of our lives. Both Kevin and I are in counseling. I hope Amanda will join us soon, and Nicholas, he doesn’t understand why his dad had to leave. Nicholas wakes up crying at night asking for Bobby; he wonders where his dad went.
The holidays will soon be here: Our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without Bobby.
October 24, 1949-January 23, 1998
The following are edited excerpts from Bobby Hobby’s deposition while in the hospital several months before he died. Being on medications and in pain, the attorneys often had to ask questions several times. I have omitted repetitious questions and answers and reworded the dialogue to make it more readable while maintaining the integrity or the deposition.
In the following segment, Hobby
is being questioned about a sulfur dioxide release
and Occidental’s subsequent measures to conceal the accident.
Attorney: At any point in time while were you were employed with Occidental, were you
aware of any gas leaks.
B. Hobby: Yeah.
Attorney: Approximately when was this?
B. Hobby: (No response.)
Attorney: About ten years ago, fifteen years ago, five years ago?
B. Hobby: (No response.)
Attorney: Was it in the eighties?
B. Hobby: It had to have been in the eighties, but I don’t–
Attorney: Now, were you working days or nights?
B. Hobby: –I don’t remember–
Attorney: I’m sorry, go ahead. You don’t remember?
B. Hobby: –remember the exact an exact time–no.
Attorney: Were you working nights when the gas leak occurred?
B. Hobby: Yeah.
Attorney: How did you know there was a leak of some sort? What led you to believe that
there was a problem at the plant?
B. Hobby: Well that’s when — the next day , some of the vegetation around the — it started
turning — well it started dying, in other words, turning yellow.
Attorney: How did it smell, the plant?
B. Hobby: It stunk.
Attorney: Was it a normal smell that you you’d been used to smelling every single day
you’ve been working?
B. Hobby: No. It smelled like rotten eggs.
Attorney: Was this something that occurred every day?
B. Hobby: This was sudden.
Attorney: After you smelled the smell, how long did it take for the vegetation to start
B. Hobby: Like, I say — the next day, we could see around in back of the plant was turning
Attorney: How much are we talking about, several acres, several miles?
B. Hobby: A couple of acres.
Attorney: What did you see Occidental do in response to the vegetation dying?
B. Hobby: That’s when they had the laborers come out with a big truck and sprayed the
whole area to kill the grass.
Attorney: What was it sprayed with — you mean like weed killer?
B. Hobby: Oh, some kind of weed killer. I talked with the laborers. I don’t remember the
names, but it’s the same chemicals. The next day, I got some to spray around the
shop to kill the weeds.
Attorney: Did it kill the weeds?
B. Hobby: It killed the weeds.
Attorney: How did they usually get rid of the weeds?
B. Hobby: For that area — they usually mowed it or had the laborers chop them down with
Attorney: Any other time that you are aware of when they used weed killer in that area — in
mass quantity, such as to cover an acre or more?
B. Hobby: Not to cover the whole back area.
Attorney: Was that the only time?
B. Hobby: Yeah.
Attorney: Anything else get sick back there that you are aware of, Mr. Hobby?
B. Hobby: Animals. Well, the pond in back and the pond in front — all the fish died.
Attorney: Can you describe — please — on the record what the fish looked like?
B. Hobby: Well, the big ones that were still alive — they were blown up; they were gasping
for air. And the ones laying on top dead, they had little sores on them.
Attorney: What did the sores look like?
B. Hobby: Just infested little sores. Little gnashes — you know — opened up wounds.
Attorney: How many fish were there?
B. Hobby: Several hundred.
Attorney: Anything else?
B. Hobby: At that time, no, but a few weeks later they got a bunch of us together on a truck,
and we loaded up some cows.
Attorney: Who told you to load the cows up?
B. Hobby: I suppose it came down from the front office, I don’t know.
Attorney: Did you decide on your own to remove these cows, or was it something you would have been instructed to do?
B. Hobby: I was instructed to do it.
Attorney: What did the cows look like, Mr. Hobby, that you were told to remove?
B. Hobby: They were real skinny and had sores on them.
Attorneys: How many cows are we talking about?
B. Hobby: I know of twenty that were loaded on our truck.
Attorney: Were you raised on a farm?
B. Hobby: Yeah.
Attorney: Do you know what a healthy cow looks like?
B. Hobby: Yeah, definitely. These cows were skinny, poor, and had sores all over them.
Attorney: Mr. Hobby, was this done in broad daylight or was this done the middle of the night?
B. Hobby: The night.
Attorney: Was there ever any discussion with regard to reporting this to third parties or talking about it to anybody else, or not talking about it to anybody else?
B. Hobby: We were just told to load them up, and that was it. The next day was as usual.
Attorney: Did anyone at Occidental ever advise you that it never happened?
B. Hobby; Yeah, but I don’t remember who.
Attorney: My question to you was — well, I’m not saying did they deny that it ever happened, my question to you is did they tell you –
B. Hobby: It didn’t happen. If it ever came up about any cows or anything, no, I knew nothing about it.
Attorney: What kind of salary were you making when you left?
B. Hobby: Good.
Attorney: Were you aware of any other employers in your county or surrounding counties, that paid equal to what Occidental paid for salaries?
B. Hobby: No.
Attorney: What was the drinking water like at Occidental?
B. Hobby: It’s got a bitter taste to it, and it stinks.
Attorney: How would you describe the stink?
B. Hobby: It’s got a bad — bad odor to it.
Attorney: What color was it?
B. Hobby: Sometimes it was brown, real brown.
Attorney: Did you drink it?
B. Hobby: Overall, I drank some of it, but basically, I brought my own water. I couldn’t stand the taste of it.
… … …
In the following segment, Bobby Hobby describes how Occidental went about
cheating on pollution emissions tests and plant inspections.
Attorney: Were you ever present when OSHA came to do a stack test?
B. Hobby: Yes. Well they would do a stack test, but it actually wouldn’t be a stack test, because most of the time they would do the stack test, the pond water would be cut off, and it would be only fresh water going into the stack.
Attorney: Would Occidental know in advance, to your knowledge, when OSHA would come — Would they have advance notice?
B. Hobby: Yes. They’d have –
Attorney: What is the significance of shutting down the pond water and using fresh water instead for a stack test?
B. Hobby: Well, I know that fresh water is good and drinkable, pond water has got acid in it, and you can’t drink it, it burns if you get it on you. They use it to clean out tanks, railroad cars, and scrubbers because of the acid in it — it works good as a cleaner.
(Evaporation pond water is laden with phosphoric acid, and numerous
contaminants, including high concentrations of fluorine. Using pond water in the pollution scrubbers is like attempting to wash clothes in dirty water because the water has close to the limit of dissolved solids that it can hold.)
Attorney: What’s in the pond water to your knowledge?
B. Hobby: Acid.
Attorney: How did the acid get in the ponds?
B. Hobby: It goes through the scrubbers.
Attorney: The pond water would go through the scrubbers?
B. Hobby: Yeah.
Attorney: When OSHA wasn’t coming — did the plant use pond water?
B. Hobby: They normally used pond water.
Attorney: Did OSHA test, to your knowledge, the tanks when they would come to do — investigations?
B. Hobby: Well with the stack tests, they usually tested the whole plant, all the areas, some tanks. All the areas are tied into the stacks, but some tanks are blanked off. All of the fumes were blocked from going through the scrubber, and they just tested the stacks from the scrubbers, mostly.
Attorney: Do you have knowledge that anyone from Occidental volunteered to OSHA that the lines were shut down?
B. Hobby: No.
Attorney: Who shut the lines off? Did you ever shut the lines off?
B. Hobby: Yes. My crew. I blanked the lines sometimes.
Attorney: Who told you to shut the lines off?
B. Hobby: My supervisor. We’d be told that — at that time, those tanks needed to be blanked off, but common sense would tell you that they were talking about a stack test.
Attorney: Did you ever have to shut down the lines when OSHA wasn’t coming?
B. Hobby: When we had to go in and work on the tanks, but not when they were full. The only thing we would be doing when OSHA came in was blanking the lines. We would not be working on them.
Attorney: How many times did this happen, Mr. Hobby? Did you shut the lines down or instruct someone to do it?
B. Hobby: Every time they came in to do a stack test, however long — however often they would do the stack tests.
Attorney: You worked for Occidental for twenty plus years, what do you think would have happened to you, if you would have volunteered to OSHA that the lines were shut down of fresh water had been substituted for pond water?
B. Hobby: I wouldn’t be working there very long.
Attorney: Do you know anything else, or changes that occurred in the scrubbers before OSHA came for their inspections?
B. Hobby: Well, we’d have to pull out the main scrubber pads, and have them cleaned — cleaned real good, and make sure all of the pads were replaced, and fresh water was going to the scrubber.
Attorney: How often were the pads cleaned normally?
B. Hobby: When the exhaust fan would quit working.
Attorney: What would happen right before OSHA was coming for an inspection?
B. Hobby: They would be cleaned and the filter pads would be in place.
Attorney: Were they always in when OSHA wasn’t coming?
B. Hobby: No — like at the phosphoric acid plant, half the time, the pads would be pulled out because the fan couldn’t blow through them.
Attorney: How many times did you see OSHA come to Occidental where you or someone else at your instruction put fresh filter pads in, turn off the pond water and switch to fresh water, and/or shut down the lines? More than five? More than ten? More than fifteen?
B. Hobby: I would be guessing if I went any higher.
… … …
The following segment concludes his deposition by his attorney.
The cross examination is redundant and offers no substantive insights.
Attorney: Are you through with your chemo at Shands?
B. Hobby: No. I go in the day after tomorrow for five days.
Attorney: Is your health insurance paying for it?
B. Hobby: Right now they are.
Attorney: What do you mean, right now, have you been told the insurance was going to be cut off?
B. Hobby: Well, I’ve been out of work for two years, it will automatically be cut off.
Attorney: What physical problems are you having now?
B. Hobby: My back, my side, my head, my feet.
Attorney: Feeling tired?
B. Hobby: All the time. I can’t do anything with my kids like I used to.
Attorney: How are you doing emotionally?
B. Hobby: I’m not.
Attorney: I think I know what you mean, but can you explain it for us on the record?
B. Hobby: I’m trying to hold up because of my kids, but it’s hard, because I can’t do anything with them like I used to.
Attorney: At that point in time, did you know unequivocally that working at Occidental and being exposed to this or that chemical caused what you currently have?
B. Hobby: When I was working out there, no, I thought it was the greatest place in the world to work.
Bobby Hobby worked in the maintenance department at Occidental for twenty-three years. The first eight years he had worked there; he did not know what a respirator was. Hobby and his coworkers were sent into tanks to weld with little or no ventilation and many were filled with fumes from phosphoric acid production. The dusts, fumes and vapors contained high levels of fluorine, radionuclides and sulfur dioxide. OSHA inspections were basically a joke in light of the fact that they have to give advanced notice of an inspection. Florida Department of Environmental Regulation does little or nothing to enforce any regulations regarding the phosphate fertilizer industry, and allows the industry to be self policing.
For Bobby Hobby and his coworkers, it is like the state and federal governments conspired against them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control was aware of the high incidence of cancers among the population surrounding the Occidental Complexes, but the government-funded study suggested that poverty was the cause of the cancers. It also seems like the doctors and hospitals conspired against them. They were aware of the high rates of chronic illnesses among the workers, but it was almost always attributed to everything else except exposure to chemicals.
No one knows how many people have died or how many people are ill in Hamilton and the surrounding North Florida Counties because of Occidental’s wholesale pollution and chemical poisoning of the workers in order to turn a profit.
Not many people care, because they think: “It’s not in my back yard.” However, thousands of gallons of the very same pollution is being dumped into water supplies in the U.S. and Canada daily. It may take a little longer to catch up with the unconcerned, and the doctors will not have a clue as to what the cause of that odd malady is. The consequences of consuming the pollution, may have already affected you or someone close to you. No one knows the consequences of using the pollution as a fluoridation agent, because there has not been one clinical study with the toxic waste.
For the phosphate fertilizer industry, water fluoridation is an efficient, cost-effective solution for dumping pollution because for every pound of the fluoride ion, the industry also gets rid of another 5.8 pounds of pollution in the drinking water. The USEPA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that there is nothing in the fluoridation agent that will hurt anyone: the very same statement that Occidental Chemical Corporation told the employees about the same pollutants. The American Dental Association unequivocally states that adding the pollution to drinking is the most significant preventive public health measure of our time.
❝ If this stuff [Fluoride] gets out into the air, it’s a pollutant;
If it gets into the river, it’s a pollutant;
If it gets into the lake, it’s a pollutant;
But if it goes right straight into your drinking water system,
it’s not a pollutant. That’s amazing! ❞
Dr. Hirzy 2000 Senior Vice-President of EPA Headquarters Union.