Worker Profiles
Trade Secrets

Everett Hoffpauir

“Their attitude was if you don't wanna do the job, there's four waiting at the gate. Do it or else. Vietnam was winding down, had a lotta people that weren't working, or if they were, they were working for a lot less money, and the plant jobs were very attractive…I had a wife and three kids at home I had to feed, you know? Nobody told you it was a real health hazard, so you didn't worry about it.”

Shortly after he returned from Vietnam, Everett Hoffpauir signed on with Conoco’s vinyl chloride plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, loading tank cars with vinyl chloride monomer. Some of the gaseous chemical escaped from every tank they loaded, Hoffpauir says, and he often got a good blast of fumes. The workers were given no protective clothing and no masks; they wore their own street clothes and leather boots instead. When those clothes got too greasy, they washed them out in benzene – a chemical now known to cause leukemia.

“You were in all of it all the time. You had propylene, ethylene, ethylene dichloride, HCL, vinyl chloride monomer, sulfuric acid, caustic. It was all right there in close proximity. You were in the middle of it at all times.”

Hoffpauir describes the daily chemical "releases" from the plant and recognizes that prevailing winds probably carried those chemicals into surrounding communities. But, he says, management seemed more concerned with production than safety.

"I was pro-union, and the company didn't like that. So as soon as the union vote failed, well, I was a 'gone pecan.' I was out the door."

Hoffpauir left the plant after only two years and then spent time working in oil patches overseas. Only recently did he learn he had been part of a group of workers studied to measure mortality from early vinyl chloride exposures.

"You know, it kind of upsets you. Matter of fact, a couple a years ago, I was made aware of how many of the original start-up crew are no longer walking the Earth. They're all pushing tulips. All of 'em attributed to one type of cancer or another.”

And he is upset by something else:

"Somebody walk in a store and pick up Drano, and they can read--well, it cleans drains. That's as far as they go. They don't read down further, that if you mix this with a chlorine product, it's gonna form a gas that'll kill ya. You know, there's too much stuff in there that people are unaware of. The labels aren't as definitive as they could be. Public awareness isn't what it should be. Integrity of the plants isn't what it could be. There's a lot of deception and understatement of facts."

Everett Hoffpauir
"You weren't aware that this insidious little monster was creeping up on you, vinyl chloride was creeping up on you and eating your brain away."

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Bill Moyers
"So you'd worry more about your job than your health?"

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