Employees were sickened PSC’s emissions

Tue, 12/26/2006 - 3:58pm
By: Ben Nelms

“I was told by the company that it wasn’t harmful.”

That was one of the comments made recently by a Philip Services Corp. (PSC) employee who had first hand knowledge of the chemicals inhaled by residents in large areas of Fayette and south Fulton counties during the summer and fall. Affected residents maintain that those chemical emissions emanated from the company’s waste treatment plant on Ga. Highway 92 near Fairburn. The story is not new, with hundreds of area residents claiming that their illnesses were due to emissions of chemical odorant Propyl mercaptan and organophosphate pesticide MOCAP. What is new is having confirmation of the similar symptoms by someone employed at the plant.

The general attitude of a number of elected officials and state agency staff since widespread reports of the onion-like odor and accompanying reports of illnesses began in late June held that PSC employees were relatively unaffected by the chemical emissions. That conventional wisdom has been questioned by many residents and is now being contradicted by William Jones, a pseudonym for the PSC employee who agreed to speak with The Citizen on the condition that he remain anonymous.

“Something kept telling me they weren’t telling the truth,” Jones said recently. “I knew from the media and the (company information) we had that they hadn’t been telling the people the truth about nothing going on around here. The truth wasn’t told. I’ll keep my mouth shut and not say anything before I’ll lie. We felt like if (PSC) had just told the truth of lot of what was going on might have just dissipated.”

Jones said he was one of approximately 30 employees working at the Fairburn facility. He was on-site as the shipments of “MOCAP wash water” arrived from the AMVAC chemical plant in Axis, Alabama. And like residents living in the 40 square-mile hot zone and beyond, Jones and others at the Fairburn waste treatment plant were affected. They experienced some of the same symptoms listed on Material Safety Data Sheets for acute overexposure and chronic overexposure to MOCAP wash water.

“I had a sore throat and dizziness, headaches, no appetite and running, swollen eyes. It’s (late) December and I’m still trying to figure out why my eyes are running,” Jones said. “Everybody complained of it. Everybody had headaches, vomiting or running eyes or sore throat and in some cases dizziness. It was just hard to deal with.”

On one occasion in June, a PSC employee wearing a respirator while handling the product was affected to the point that he was vomiting, Jones said.

Though affected by the sickening onion-like chemical emissions, Jones said employees kept quiet about their concerns.

“We never complained (to management) about what was ailing us. We never complained about that. But we were all ready to be done with that product,” Jones said. “We had meetings on it and they spoke about it and we neglected to complain. I can only speak for me, but I wanted to keep my job.”

Months have passed since the first chemical odors masquerading as wild onions surfaced in the neighborhoods of Fayette and south Fulton counties. Those now-familiar chemical emissions have faded from the scene. With some lingering symptoms in his own life, Jones wonders about the implications of the chemicals he inhaled and those breathed in neighboring communities.

“In the beginning I wasn’t worried about (being exposed),” said Jones. “We were told by the company that it wasn’t harmful and you could live (in proximity to) it and that was that. They told us that it won’t be long. We’re going to continue to operate, that things are going to get back to normal. They said the neighbors are just blowing off steam. And once they blow off their steam we wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.”

South Fulton/Fayette Community Task Force Chairman Connie Biemiller could not disagree more with the idea that neighbors would blow off steam and let things lie. She said the illnesses suffered by so many in the neighborhoods has created a resolve that will not be thwarted. That task force resolve is also extended to PSC employees.

”Our Task Force is saddened to hear that our worst fears have been confirmed regarding the health and welfare of the PSC employees,” Biemiller said. “Our biggest concern at this point is that these workers will not be intimidated by PSC and will begin to come forth so that we can offer them any medical and psychological resources that we attain for the benefit of their future.”

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