Thursday, November 01, 2007


What does it take to get some attention if your just little people in a small town in upstate New York. It takes the wherewithal to just keep on plugging away. That is exactly what Kurt Jones of the Broom County town of Endecott has been doing. Jones a former IBM employee has every reason to believe that he and others have an increased risk of cancer thanks to their former employer IBM. Jones is doing his best just to get OSHA to upgrade ridiculous standards.

Even as Jones and friends donned Halloween costumes as part of a protest (see picture) technicians using hydraulic equipment have begun covering a new area in the nearby town of Union in an ongoing search for hazardous chemicals possibly lingering in the ground for decades. That scene is being repeated on or near streets or walkways at more than 50 sites in the commercial and industrial neighborhood, including gas stations, repair shops, auto dealers and dry cleaners.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation decided to test it as a after previous investigations found TCE pollution has tainted more than 500 properties in Endicott and the Town of Union. The chemical compound trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chlorinated hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent.

That is what Jones is talking about.

The Press and Sun reports a subterranean plume of TCE was found pushing through foundations and contaminating indoor air in hundreds of buildings south of the former IBM plant in the heart of the village in 2003. Since then, technicians working for the DEC have found pollution affecting more than 22 properties outside of the IBM area. They have widened their search to include any area that might be tainted by TCE, an industrial solvent once used liberally in applications ranging from electronics manufacturing to dry cleaning.

TCE is heavier than water and tends to sink through the water table, leaving residual contamination along the way. But it also gives off gases that rise through the soil and work their way into buildings through a process called vapor intrusion.

TCE exposure is associated with illnesses ranging from cancer to brain damage.

I ask you how many times do we have to go through this sort of thing. We all know that the worst that ever seems to happen to companies responsible is maybe a fine.

People should be going to prison for a long time for killing people.

When Johanna Hasak's husband died suddenly from cancer in 1979, she never imagined it could be related to his workplace... IBM Endicott.

"I didn't connect my own situation with all the things I had read about now, it's just one of those things that hangs on you. You just want to know," says Hasak.

She joined with some others and got their representative in Congress, Maurice Hinchey interested...finally. He says IBM has not released reports on how much TCE was once used, and how close workers came to the chemical.

And it isn't just IBM employees who should be and are concerned. Residents and advocates don't want authorities to forget a polluted neighborhood to the south where excessive rates of cancers and birth defects have already been documented.

Residents are asking for a follow-up study that would give more clues about whether the illnesses are caused by exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) flowing from under the former IBM plant on North Street, now owned by Huron Real Estate Associates.

And it isn't just IBM that is at fault and it isn't just Endecott and Union either. The Ithaca Journal recently reported that TCE from the former Morse Industrial site may have found its ways into a tributary of Cayuga Lake. According to the report, an Ithaca company, Wallace Steel, Inc., processed scrap metal from Morse Industrial that may have contained oils laced with TCE, which was used as a degreaser prior to being discovered as a carcinogenic chemical. The paper also documents the leaching of oils from the scrap metal location into the ground at the facility on the banks of the Cayuga Inlet.

In a letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis last May, Congressman Maurice Hinchey also expressed his strong concerns about health threats to residents who live downhill from the Morse Industrial site. Prior to being banned as a degreaser in 1983, TCE was not collected after use and presumably flushed into the sewer system. Local records indicate that waste oil from the site also drained into sewers and creeks.

"These activities have left a situation that is just unacceptable for local residents and raise legitimate concerns about the quality of indoor air due to vapor intrusion," Hinchey said. "As you may know, I aggressively pushed your predecessor to investigate this threat but was disappointed by the previous administration’s inability to determine the extent of this contamination. It is my sincere hope that you will do everything possible to ensure that all appropriate testing occurs -- at the plant and in surrounding neighborhoods -- and that adequate remediation takes place to safeguard the health of residents living in this area."

Keep in mind that more than two years ago the Ithica Journal wrote, "For decades we've let this situation to linger. Emerson (another contaminated town), which didn't make the mess, has done what's been demanded to clean it up. They have even promised to try new methods and test new areas to fight the TCE contamination. State agencies, at times lagging behind Emerson's effort, have done what the political winds demanded, which translated into precious little until recent years.

This crap goes on and has gone on all over everywhere and about the biggest thing we've all gotten out of it is a movie about Erin Brockovich.

It's time company CEOs got a chance to spend some time in "The Big House" instead of living in their own big houses, don't you think?

The following is from TWEAN News in Syracuse, New York.

Former IBM employees protest at costume party

BROOME COUNTY, N.Y. -- On the surface, it looks like your normal Halloween costume party: scary music playing and plenty of candy to go around. But all it takes is one closer look at the costumes to realize there's a purpose behind the party.

"I'm dressed up as a law suit," Kurt Jones said.

"A clean room worker. I'm a former IBM employee," James Little said. He was an employee with IBM for 19 years.

What they're dressed up for is an environmental protest taking place across the street from the former IBM, where they say TCE negatively affected their health.

"I would like to see some legislation to get the standards strengthened for OSHA," Little said.

"We definitely need national attention here in Endicott. We need Mr. Spitzer to come down here to Endicott," said Mark Bacon, the organizer of the protest.

This costume party is the latest attempt by Bacon to make the TCE issue in Endicott a national one. Previously, he had written a message on his wall to Governor Spitzer. And you can't see it from the ground, but if you look at the top of his building, it's very clear where he thinks he lives. It says "IBM's toxic plume" with an arrow pointing across the street.

"It seems like I'm the criminal here, because when I do these things people come after me and tell me to stop. And I'm not the criminal," Bacon said.

In fact, Bacon and many of the other protesters believe they and their families are victims of the TCE contamination and they're hoping the government will take steps to prevent it from happening again.

"The situation here is also a very scary one," Jones said.

Which is why they say it fits in perfectly with Halloween.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is already conducting a study to examine cancer rates among former IBM employees. Mark Bacon says he hopes protests like the one he held last night will promote a study on residents who live near the former plant.

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