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AI COX-Arm tt a TiV, VQ:::r Productos de Preservacion’s back door is one neighborhood’s backyard ALAN POGUE admittance to the industrial park and it was not until the State Judicial Police’s Delta Squad forced its way past the gate that the women got medical attention. “The Bravo reported the story bad, said Newell Metals plant manager Fred Quintana, of Brownsville, when asked about the newspaper report. Quintana, whose plant security officers, according to El Bravo, told ambulance drivers from the Red Cross and Green Cross that they had orders to keep everyone out of the industrial park, was also mentioned at the end of the El Bravo story, saying that only eight of his employees, all women, were overcome by fumes from Idacon’ s gas leak. All of the workers affected by the gas were women and most of the sorters who work at a conveyer belt at Newell Metals are women. “It was just a chemical leak. We evacuated the plant. It turned out to be non-toxic, non dangerous,” Quintana said. He later clarified what he said at the beginning of a telephone interview, explaining that what occurred was a gas leak and not a chemical leak. “There’s a difference,” he said. If it was not dangerous, not toxic, why did the women pass out after being exposed to the gas? “Psychological,” Quintana said. “Look, we had all those girls taken to the Social Security [workers’ hospital] and all of them came back with a clean bill of health. The gas went into the atmosphere. I don’t know what gas it was. But it was not a chemical leak because none of those girls inhaled any of that stuff. The majority of what happened was psychological.” Van Strum, whose work for Greenpeace places her squarely on the other side of the fence from Quintana and the operators of the Productos de Preservacion plant who in this case are most notable for their absolute silence disagrees. “If you can smell it, you’re exposed, “she said of pentachlorophenol. Jonathan Ward, an associate professor from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, did not seem to consider the penta plant as grave a threat to the residential community near the plant as did Van Strum. “There would have to be levels of the chemical in excess of what you would find in the ambient environment [before it would be a serious hazard],” Ward said. When told that women fainted from exposure to pentachlorophenol, or some component of it, Ward said that would change the terms by which anyone would assess the risk of chemical exposure around a penta plant. “If you have an acute reaction to a one-time exposure, you have to ask what’s the level of dayto-day exposure,” he said. “If pen tachlorophenol is a “teratogen,” a substance which according to Ward “causes structural malformations in developing embryos,” then pregnant women exposed to the chemical could be in considerable danger. The Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous waste describes pentachlorophenol as fetotoxic and teratogenic during early gestation, though no EPA studies have yet concluded that penta is teratogenic. But the question concerning pregnant women’s exposure to penta is another issue, said EPA scientist Cate Jenkins, who four years ago was reassigned after pushing for the upgrading of PCP’s hazardous waste classification. “It might be proven that it is teratogenic. But it clearly is a threat to the fetus. Anything as toxic as pentachlorophenol will cause birth defects and reproductive abnormalities,” Jenkins said. Ward suggested that that the medical community might share those same concerns. UTMB-Galveston is looking at penta as one possible cause of neural tube defects, which according to a lawsuit filed in Brownsville, occur with high frequency in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Idacon is not named among the more than 30 defendants in the “anacephalic baby” lawsuit, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Martinez of Brownsville. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7