Open Letter

US Department of Labor,Occupational Safety & Health Administrations (OSHA)
Wilson Plaza 606 N Carancahua Ste. 700
Corpus Christi, Texas 78476

To Whom it May Concern:

We, the Injured Workers United from Calhoun County, Texas, are writing to express our concern about the Formosa Plastics facility in Point Comfort, Texas. We are former workers of Formosa (some current) who formed a group in order to support each other through our disabilities, illnesses, financial hard times, and the experience of working under a company that, we believe, has shown, and continues to show, a high disregard for its workers, community, and the environment. Some of us have been working at Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas since the plant’s start up in l981. Many of us have given eighteen years, twenty years, twenty-five years, and twenty-seven years of service to a company that has shown a consistent callousness for the worker and a dangerous inaptness about how they run their company.

Recently, the EPA hit Formosa Plastics with a $13 million penalty. This is not news to us. Almost all of us are whistle blowers of a sort, but often our whistle blowing has been about unreported releases, unsafe towers, tack welded ladders, and uncontained vinyl chloride leaks so plentiful that the alarms were shut off in the control room. These complaints were sent to Formosa’s management, where they went nowhere. A few more of us were whistle blowers for the state and federal agencies and provided information in 200l for the wastewater investigation in which the FBI subpoenaed Formosa’s wastewater documents. That went nowhere, too. A toxic investigator said in their last meeting that even though the EPA/FBI/Texas environmental task force had a case against Formosa, the investigation was dropped.

Certainly, the violations didn’t stop. Which is, we suppose, the reason for the recent $13 million settlement/Consent Decree against Formosa Plastics. I guess even the EPA gets fed up. Recent findings by EPA investigators at the Formosa facility in Point Comfort, Texas showed extensive Clear Air Act leak detection and repair violations, including failure to properly monitor leaking components (500 in one unit), failure to include chemical manufacturing equipment in its leak detection and repair program, and failure to timely repair leaking equipment.

The inspectors also found “extensive” leak detection and repair violations, as well as other hazardous waste violations at the site and wastewater discharge violations.

In January 2009, the science journal Ecotoxicity, published a report by scientists at Texas A&M. The report revealed changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage in cattle as far as six miles downwind of Formosa. The changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage can increase the animal’s risk of cancer and reproductive damage. Because of the strong, steady wind from the southeast, researchers expected that if Formosa Plastics was the main culprit, then cattle located downwind or northwest from the facility would show larger genetic disturbances. The results provided a “strong indication of increased damage.” Wesley Bissett, lead study author and veterinarian at Texas A&M College of Veterinarian Medicine, said the cattle with the DNA damage were “orientated around the Formosa facility, with the highest damage occurring with those nearby and those downwind.” Bisset reported damage to cattle both within close proximity of the Formosa facility and in areas where the prevailing winds would blow the toxic gases.

In October, 2009 the EPA will conduct a meeting in Calhoun County regarding Formosa’s extensive ethylene dichloride contamination that has been caused, in part, by their process exceedances, overflows, spills, and general sloppy housekeeping that has forced closure of a nearby state rest area on Highway 35, buy-out of subsequent nearby property, burying of ‘questionable area’ under five foot of soil, and contamination of the groundwater and nearby Cox Creek in the thousands part per million. The safety of local water wells is unsure at this time. Our reasons for writing are several. We believe that Formosa’s sloppy environmental record can only mean that their occupational record is equally suspect. We, ourselves, are proof of it. Many of us have documented thrombocytosis, neurological damage, cognitive impairment, severe peripheral neuropathy that can only be treated with a surgically implanted plant that delivers morphine to the spinal nerves 24/7. One member has a friend in his unit that died from brain cancer. Another worker that sniffed the leaking valves and flanges, for which the EPA recently cited Formosa, died of angiosarcoma, liver cancer. A number of workers have developed knots on their heads and have been told by friends to get a biopsy, but they haven’t because they are afraid of what they will find. Brain Cancer.

The concern abut brain cancer among the workers has been so severe that Formosa sent out a memo to all the vinyl employees that they were bringing in a doctor who could talk about brain cancer. Basically, the doctor told the concerned workers that there was no link to vinyl chloride exposure and brain cancer. Who knows what caused it. Probably the barbeque they ate. Too much water. After all, the dose makes the poison.

One of our injured workers was involved in Formosa’s daily logging of vinyl chloride leaks in the PVC unit. He said the leaks ranged from 1.2 to 7 to 13 to 35 to 177 to 987 to 6,000 parts per million, and this for every hour of very day of every year. And he was there for 25 years. Another time EDC (ethylene dichloride) was sent in error to the PVC/VCM unit and the workers waded in the stuff for three days with nothing but rubber boots and gloves to protect them. Another time, the process line was tied into the drinking water line and the workers drank vinyl chloride tainted water. This worker’s last act at Formosa was after a supervisor requested he falsify a four-ton vinyl chloride release so that the company could report 2.79 pounds to the EPA.

Randy Smith, vice president and general manager at Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas recently, and in reference to the $13 million settlement, said, “there is no significant environmental or health issues.” That is ludicrous, but it deserves a response. So we are requesting that OSHA, in accordance with its duties to protect workers, immediately begin to monitor current workers in all areas of PVC production at Formosa Plastics. Personal exposures, objective air monitoring on site, and biomarker or biological studies are suggested. OSHA should also be concerned that former workers have been impacted by their occupational careers at Formosa and should be part of the review. We are requesting a meeting in a timely manner where we might discuss this objective.

Our group is currently working with scientists from Tulane University Health Science Center, School of Public Heath and Tropical Medicine, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine, and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who have been alarmed, as we are, at the health problems we and our fellow Formosa workers are exhibiting. The hospitals in Taiwan call the worker illnesses related to Formosa the “Formosa Syndrome.” We have the same problem here in Texas.

It is our hope to meet with you soon. We are tired of waiting. Looking forward to your response.

The Injured Workers committee

Injured Workers United
PO Box 1001
Seadrift, Texas 77983

US Department of Labor
Occupational Safety & Health Administrations
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

US Department of Labor
Occupational Safety & Health Administrations
525 Griffin Street, Suite 602
Dallas, Texas 75202

US Office of General Accounting
441 G St. NW
Washington DC, 20548-0002

Committee on Education and Labor
Honorable George Miller, Chairman
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC, 20515

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington DC, 20500

US Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Riios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington DC 20460

US Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6
Fountain Place 12th floor, Suite 1200
1445 Ross Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75202-2733

Office of the Governor
P.O.Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Executive Director, Mark Vickery MC 109
P.O.Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Chairman, Bryan Shaw
P.O.Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087

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