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levels when Velsicol stopped production. The only figures NIOSH has to go by, he notes, are “ballpark standards” drawn up by Velsicol itself. According to the first NIOSH release, those standards suggest that a maximum safe dosage for humans was .262 milligrams per cubic meter of air. According to Velsicol’s own records, the concentration at the Bayport plant sometimes reached 3.8 milligrams per cubic meter of airalmost 15 times the safe dosage recommended by the manufacurer. “There’s a very definite need for these men to undergo a complete medical examination,” Markel said when the NIOSH Houston office opened. “We’re trying to reach as many as we can so they can be examined for disorders they may have as a result of exposure to Phosvel.” The medical exam, Markel explained then, would be designed to uncover the nature and extent of nerve disorders in affected workers. Those disorders could include full paralysis, according to Dr. Marcus Key, professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Key says tests show that leptophos has “far-reaching effects that damage or destroy the covering of the nerves.” Nerve disorders begin, Key says, within several weeks after exposure to the chemical, according to tests on laboratory animals. “This is generally regarded as an irreversible procedure,” Key adds. “Depending upon concentration of the exposure and its duration, there may be further deterioration in the condition. There could be some degree of improvement, but I wouldn’t expect much.” Dr. William S. Fields, chairman of neurology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, says he has seen some improvement in a number of the exposed workers referred to him, but admits that some have been permanently disabled. “There’s just no way to tell which ones will improveand how much they will recover,” Fields says, “but we suspect some have a permanent type of disorder.” That’s exactly what Bobby Thompson fears. Thompson, a 47-year-old ex-Velsicol worker, says he suffered dizziness and blurry vision after working at the Bayport plant one year. “Sure I’m going to take those tests,” he says. “I want to find out what that stuff has done to me.” Thompson is upset about disclosures of Phosvel’s nerve-killing effects and blames Velsicol. “We were not aware that that stuff would poison our nerves. The company gave us no instruction, no special training, and no special clothing. They never said a thing about a danger or a risk,” he charges. Thompson was a maintenance worker at the plant and was exposed to Phosvel on many occasions. “We were in charge of maintaining the pumps that pumped the stuff into another building. Those pumps 18 The Texas Observer were always breaking down, and when we disconnected them from the pipes to work on them, that poison rained down on us,” he says. Thompson finally quit Velsicol because the pesticide was making him sick. The Phosvel was so strong, “that I would go home and my family just couldn’t stand the smell, even though I took a lot of baths and changed clothes.” He describes the smell of the pesticide as “sort of like strong, wet manure,” and says he can still taste it. “Every once in a while,” Thompson said, “I get this strong bad taste in my mouth, and I recognize itit’s that stuff.” Raymond David, a supervisor at the plant from 1969 until September, 1975, says other plant workers nicknamed pesticidehandlers “the Phosvel zombies.” David says the nickname was hung on men “who had become goofy after working with the poison too long. Some of those guys were leaving the plant in the dead of winter without shoes on.” Union action H. J. McClain, regional director of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers’ Union, reports that many Velsicol employees and even some supervisory personnel have been uneasy about their exposure to the pesticide, but have been afraid to speak out. McClain says Velsicol management warned workers that if their complaints were publicized, EPA would padlock the plant and the men would be out of work. The Bayport plant is non-union, McClain notes, and most of the workers wereand arefearful they will be fired for criticizing conditions there. “All this’ll wake them up over there,” McClain thinks. He says a union safety committee would have prevented most of what has befallen the Velsicol workers. Accordingly, he expects an organizing drive to get under way at the plant “sometime after the first of the year.” David, 38, says he saw men dressed only in shorts working in a building where solidified chunks of the pesticide were broken down by axes for shipment overseas in steel barrels. One memory will always haunt him. “I came across one of those guys lying on the floor vomiting and sweating like he’d been washed with a hose. That sweat smelled like the poison,” he recalls. David quit in protest over safety conditions after plant officials ignored a letter he wrote blaming inadequate handling precautions for his illness. “It was just a nightmare situation there,” he says. Another former employee worked at the plant only two days before he resigned over the company’s lack of concern for safe working conditions. Thomas A. Carpenter says conditions at the Bayport plant were “unbelievable” compared to other plants where he has worked. “There was pesticide leaking all over the place, dripping from pipes,” he says. A man who was demoted and finally sacked because of long absences for treatment of a nerve condition, says he and his fellow workers ate lunch in a room where Phosvel was regularly handled. They never washed pesticide dust from their hands before eating because the company never told them the chemical was hazardous, he says. Velsicol faces at least one lawsuit charging the company with gross negligence in not informing workers of job hazards at the Bayport plant. A suit has already been filed in behalf of a 34-year-old Seabrook man that asks for $2 million in damages as compensation for the ex-worker’s nerve condition. The suit claims the man spent a year in each of two hospitalsone of them a San Antonio mental institutionbecause of his ailments. The lawyer handling the suit, Kenneth D. McConnico of Clear Lake, says he will file three other suits against the company. One of them will demand damages for the survivors of an ex-Velsicol worker who drowned in an Alabama boating accident this June. McConnico says the man, once a good swimmer, was pulled under because of the leg braces he had to wear after being crippled by Phosvel poisoning. No prosecution? An official of a local occupational healthrelated agency says it’s unlikely Velsicol will face criminal charges in the Phosvel case because of a six-month statute of limitations on occupational mishaps. Since production of the pesticide was halted in Januaryand since it takes only a few weeks for Phosvel poisoning symptoms to developit’s possible the company will escape criminal prosecution on this technicality. However, workers could use data gathered in the NIOSH probe as admissible evidence in civil suits. The official, who asked to be identified neither by name or agency, predicts the NIOSH investigation will uncover “a very bad [Velsicol] track record in both occupational safety and environmental matters.” The litigation developing in the Velsicol matter recalls the Kepone mishap in southeastern Virginia last year. More than 30 workers at an Allied Chemical Corp. pesticide plant in Hopewell suffered nerve disorders from exposure to Kepone, and parts of the James River and Chesapeake Bay were closed to commercial fishermen after tests revealed traces of the chemical in the water. A federal judge hit Allied Chemical with $13.2 million in pollution and reckless endangerment fines when the case was successfully prosecuted in district court. NIOSH’s Markel is aware of Velsicol’s past behavior, and he’s .not particularly satisfied with the company’s marginal cooperation with NIOSH investigators. For