Now the plant is closed.
Trinity American Corp. shifted some of its idled 170 employees to cleaning and maintenance duties in the foam-production area, company president Jerry Drye said Friday. Others have been shaping the foam poured into blocks and set aside to cure before the closure order. The cured foam is cut for use in mattresses and chair seats.
``As soon as that inventory runs off we're totally out of business,'' Drye said.
The Randolph County foam operation was shut down Wednesday (Sept. 3rd. after about 100 families were told they should evacuate their homes in the middle of the night to avoid breathing possibly hazardous chemicals.
The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry detected high levels of hydrocarbons in yards near the plant and alerted county health officials, which issued the voluntary evacuation order.
State Health Director Ron Levine ordered the company's foam operation shut down until further notice.
A sample from one resident taken by Duke University Medical Center researchers for the state contained TDI antibodies, the state Department of Health and Human Resources said.
Exposure to TDI can make people sensitive to other chemicals, the department said, but a spokesman for Levine added it's unclear if some residents' health complaints this week are linked with past TDI exposure.
``I am sorry to learn than one of our neighbors apparently has TDI in his blood,'' Drye said in a prepared statement. ``The state never told us of this development. Had we known we might have been able to take action to remedy the situation for this particular individual.''
``That's unfortunate,'' said Levine's spokesman, Bill Furney of the situation. ``The truth is that the idea of putting a plant out of operation and preventing people from earning a living is a terrible decision to have to make and it's not one that we take lightly. It's part of the reason this has gone on for so long.''
``It got down to a choice of what is it going to take to protect the people? That is our primary responsibility as public health'' officials, Furney said.
The company has spent $600,000 in recent years to monitor the plant's emissions and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to make sure it's in compliance with state regulations, Drye said.
``We don't know what to do. If they'll tell us what to do, we'll do it,'' Drye said.
Furney said the message to the company already should be clear.
``They need to figure out a way to operate where they won't create a public health nuisance,''Furney said.
``What you have got is a situation that because of the close proximity of the factory to the residents, you have a human lab experiment. We don't know what's causing them to get sick, but we have every confidence that it is emissions from the plant that is making them sick. Waiting to find out specifically what that may be would be irresponsible on our part,'' he said.
Trinity Foam of Carolina Inc. in Randolph County North Carolina was given notice to stop all manufacturing that releases too much toluene diisocyanate, also known as TDI, an irritant that can cause coughing, vomiting and other problems.
Those residents reported symptoms that included headaches, rashes, nausea, dizziness, upper respiratory and eye irritation, digestive problems and irregular heart beats. In addition, a staff member with the state Division of Environmental Management's Air Quality Section developed a severe headache while checking air-sampling equipment near the plant. ``I believe that it is reasonable and logical to conclude that chemical emissions from the plant are the cause of some of their reported health problems,'' Levine said. ``While I realize this may place a burden on the company, this action was necessary to protect the health of people who live near the plant.''
The company, founded in 1977, manufactures polyurethane foams used by the furniture industry. It has about 170 people at its 15-acre site in Glenola, an unincorporated community of about 500 people near High Point, North Carolina.
Soon after the plant opened, neighbors noticed a foul smell in the air and white, milky liquid running down a nearby creek.
In 1981, neighbors complained that plant workers were burying drums in a swampy section of the company's property. Four years later, state regulators cited the company for illegally discharging a chromium solution into the creek without a permit. The company paid a $6,000 fine.
Over the years, residents have also reported fires and diesel fuel spills at the plant, along with an occasional blizzard of fiber particles from the plant that leaves a dusty coating on their cars. But their biggest concern is the fumes.
``The smell is overwhelming,'' said one neighbor, who lives only a few hundred feet from the plant.. ``You take a breath, and you can feel it going into your system.''
In addition to TDI, Trinity estimates it releases about 500,000 pounds of methylene chloride fumes into the air each year. The solvent is widely used in the industry to blow holes in urethane foam. But it also has been found to cause health problems such as an irregular heartbeat and breathing difficulties. It also causes cancer in laboratory animals.
When regulators began monitoring air around the plant in 1995, they found methylene chloride levels 38 times higher than federal ambient air standards. In December, test results showed such high levels of fumes that state toxicologists issued a health advisory to alert residents to the potential cancer risks. Within days, Trinity American and its trade association - the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance - blasted the state for issuing the advisory.
State officials also received a visit from Frank Sizemore, legislative counsel for House Speaker Harold Brubaker, a Republican whose district includes Glenola. In a Jan. 18 meeting with Howard and state health officials, Sizemore asked why the department hadn't notified the company before issuing the release. Last October, the company's officers contributed $500 to Brubaker's campaign, according to state election reports.
|This like many Chemical Illness Stories will continue for those that are sick will go on for years to come. The latest on the Trinity Foam Plant is that the State Legislature has agreed to help.|