ASERIES OF incidents convinced Pryor that his illness, like hundreds of other cases in the Golden Triangle, was work-related. One was the Houston physician’s explanation that his two illnesses were caused by separate and unrelated sources. The other was a series of newspaper articles and subsequent Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers demand for an investigation concerning an unusual number of leukemia victims among workers at the synthetic rubber plants. \(The government, when it got out of the synthetic rubber business sold half of the plant to Goodrich-Gulf and half to TexacoThe investigation came ha the form of a National Institute for Occupational synthetic rubber workers who had worked in the Port Neches plants. For Pryor, the road from company man to litigant was, in a sense, a loss of innocence at 65 that would change forever his perception of corporate America’s interest in the well being of its workers. According to Pryor, organized labor forced the companies and the govern-, ment to look into the unusually high numbers of leukemia cases among synthetic rubber workers. When the investigation began Pryor called a local Goodrich official and offered to help. He had worked at the plant even before production started and was familiar with all of the chemicals that had been used there. And as an industrial hygienist he had studied the toxocological properties of most of the material used in the process. “I was immediately cut off,” Pryor said. “I knew right then and there that my health was not important to them and that the company didn’t want to know what had caused the problems in the plant.” Pryor had already begun a simple epidemiological survey after it occured to him that in Jefferson County there were more leukemia cases than in most other places. He discovered that the national average rate of frequency for leukemia is six or seven cases per 100,000 persons. He began to “run down leukemia cases” in south Jefferson County, visiting homes, questioning survivors and victims about work histories, exposures, diagnoses and prognoses. At the end of a year he looked at a list of 80 names and knew that in Port Arthur and Port Neches something was terribly wrong. “And there had to be many, many more,” Pryor said. When NIOSH field-workers arrived in Jefferson County Pryor again con 12 APRIL 17, 1987 tacted a Goodrich official and anonymously told him of his diagnosis and situation. “I was cussed out over the phone,” Pryor said. He finally made contact with investigators through the OCAW. When NIOSH officials revealed that a former plant manager was participating in the study, Pryor was immediately contacted by a Goodrich official who asked pointedly if Pryor was the unnamed participant. Pryor said that he was and again offered to help. He was told that the matter was too sensitive to discuss and that his help was not needed. “I later told the manager at the Port Neches plant,” Pryor said, “that if at of barges sent to be refitted. And he determined precisely the chemical that had caused his kidney cancer and at least one of the chemicals that proved to be directly related to leukemia in the rubber plant. THE CHEMICAL Phenylbetaan anti-oxidant, a fine pow der that immediately becomes ambient when it is exposed to open air. By 1890 it had been banned in Germany because of its known relation to kidney cancer. Dayton Rubber, according to Pryor,. introduced an altered version of the chemical in England in the 1920s where 400 documented deaths were sufficient to have it banned in that country. Du Pont brought BNA to the U.S. around 1930 and one of their chemists determined that it was carcinogenic. It was Goodrich that added phenyl to BNA to create the PBNA that became the industry standard. “They made millions of pounds of it,” Pryor said, “and it had been directly linked to cancer.” Around 1977, Pryor claims, Goodrich quietly found a substitute for PBNA after a 1976 Wall Street Journal story linked the chemical to bladder and kidney cancer among workers at an Arkansas rocket fuel plant. It was a chemical that Pryor and thousands of other synthetic rubber workers had known intimately for many years. Butadiene peroxide had disappeared from synthetic rubber plants after the 1947 Johns Hopkins study found’ a chemical that would prevent its formation. But like many carcinogens its effect on workers would not . be revealed for many years. Bodie Pryor remembered butadiene peroxide in 1978 while he was gathering information for the lawsuit that he and four co-plaintiffs had filed against Goodrich and some 30 other area chemical producers and consumers. “I went to my book and found that it is a strong leukemia agent,” Pryor said. Dr. Carlos Bonilla, who Pryor had known when both were students at Columbia, had been a member of the Johns Hopkins team that had solved the butadiene peroxide problem in 1947. Pryor found Bonilla at Columbia and Bonilla located the report in his personal files and forwarded it to Pryor. It had never been released by the government and it indicated that the Port Neches plant, in 1946, was dangerously contaminated with the chemical. Pryor wrote to his lawyer that he had “something tight” then forwarded the information to the Port Arthur News which published a butadiene peroxide story despite a Goodrich threat to sue both the newspaper and Johns Hopkins. Pho to by Lou is Du bose Bodie Pryor any time when I was just trying to help, if any company official had shown a little sympathy or compassion, a little interest in what I was trying to do, I would have stopped it right there. “But I knew they were hiding it. I knew they were sweeping it under the rug. All -the chemical plants and refineries were in the same boat. They all had toxic materials and they all were hiding the information.” Pryor continued to work at Gulf and to gather information. In the course of his personal study he developed a demographic of leukemia. He found clusters of leukemia and cancer among students, former students, and staff at Port Neches-Groves High School, situated downwind from the rubber plants and a huge butadiene plant. He found another cluster of leukemia cases among former workers at Gulfport Shipyard where, as Pryor explains it, toxic chemicals were illicitly disposed of by companies that left waste in the bottoms
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.