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
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
Shortly after he returned from Vietnam, Everett Hoffpauir signed
on with Conocos 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.
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."
"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
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"So you'd worry more about your job than your health?"