Since our report on the McWane corporation first aired,
there have been several significant developments:
- The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a criminal investigation of McWane plants in January 2003 -- the same month The New York Times and FRONTLINE reported on McWane in a series of newspaper articles and in the documentary "A Dangerous Business."
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to conduct special inspections of five McWane foundries. In April 2003, the agency fined the company $196,000 for 13 serious violations, four repeat violations and one minor infraction that it found in an October 2002 inspection of Tyler Pipe following Guadalupe Garcia's accident.
- In March 2003, OSHA announced a new "enhanced enforcement policy" on workplace safety, designed to strengthen its ability to act against companies who receive "high gravity" citations. OSHA administrator John Henshaw told The New York Times that the changes in OSHA policy were prompted by the Times and FRONTLINE's joint investigation of McWane. Intended to strengthen existing regulations, the policy changes include on-site follow-up inspections of all workplaces that receive a "high gravity" citation and programmed inspections that record the "overall corporate entity" that owns an individual workplace. OSHA also said that it would implement provisions in settlement agreements requiring companies to: hire consultants to examine the safety procedures in the affected building; apply the agreement throughout the company; and report all serious injuries and illnesses requiring outside medical treatment to OSHA.
- McWane says it is devoting more resources to efforts to improve worker safety and upgrade environmental protection equipment. In April 2003, McWane and the United Steelworkers of America announced an agreement to work together to improve workplace safety at McWane plants. In a joint statement, the company and the union said they would improve the "skills, functions and authority of our joint safety and health committees" and encourage "all employees to report workplace hazards, suggest how to correct them and to report all occupational injuries, illnesses, accidents and near misses." The two sides agreed to "eliminate any impediments" to reporting such instances. Workers interviewed by The New York Times say that they have seen an improvement in working conditions since January and that managers are beginning to place compliance with safety and environmental regulations above production concerns.
- In March 2005, McWane pleaded guilty to two federal felonies and agreed to pay $4.5 million in fines regarding environmental violations at its Tyler Pipe foundry in Tyler, Texas. The company acknowledged that while upgrading equipment it knowingly had not properly installed air pollution controls as required in the Clean Air Act. It also acknowledged that it had concealed information from environmental regulators. Placed on five years probation, McWane said it expected to pay $1.5 million in fines to Texas environmental regulators and $1 million to the EPA. As part of the plea agreement, the company also agreed to turn over to investigators 400 boxes of documents that it had been withholding under attorney-client privilege.
- In May 2005, McWane and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced an agreement under which to avoid fines for emission violations in 2003, the company would invest $9.3 million in upgrades to reduce mercury and other hazardous emissions from its Atlantic States foundry in Phillipsburg, N.J. NJDEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell told The Morning Call (Allentown, Penn.) that the deal was beneficial to the state because the foundry, which agreed to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by January 2006, was already in compliance with current regulations. According to McWane, Atlantic States would become the first North American foundry to use state-of-the-art technology to "substantially limit" mercury emissions.
- In June 2005, a federal jury in Birmingham, Ala., convicted McWane and three of its executives of environmental crimes for repeatedly discharging polluted water from its McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company into Birmingham's Avondale Creek. The company, James Delk, the foundry's former general manager, and Michael Devine, the foundry's former plant manager, were found guilty of conspiring to violate the Clean Water Act. The company and Charles Robison, its vice president for environmental affairs, were convicted of filing a false report with the EPA. All are expected to be sentenced on Oct. 25; McWane and the executives have filed an appeal.
- According to an Aug. 30, 2005, report in The New York Times, McWane has agreed to plead guilty to charges of safety and environmental violations at its Union Foundry plant in Birmingham, Ala. The company acknowledged mishandling dust contaminated with lead and cadmium, which have been tied to lung cancer. It also admitted willfully violating safety rules by not having the required safety guard on a conveyor belt which crushed to death employee Reginald Elston. McWane agreed to pay $3.5 million in fines and to spend $750,000 on a community project to benefit workplace safety or the environment in Alabama.