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Chemical Plant Faces Penalties for Worker Exposures

By Lisa Schuetz

MIDDLETON, Wis.--A polyurethane foam plant faces $ 104,000 in penalties for allegedly exposing its employees to dangerous levels of chemicals.

After a surprise visit late last year from federal safety inspectors, Future Foam, 2210 Parmenter St., was issued citations Tuesday listing eight violations -- two of them repeat offenses, said Kimberly Stille, Occupational Safety and Health Administration acting area director.

The OSHA citations allege that the company potentially exposed employees to methylene chloride and toluene-2,4-diisocyanate, known as TDI, beyond allowable limits.

"TDI attacks the central nervous system," Stille said. "You don't run across it very often because it is so sensitizing."

Methylene chloride is a solvent that affects the central nervous system, as well as irritates the respiratory tract. It also is a potential carcinogen, Stille said.

Future Foam has about 60 employees, but OSHA is not alleging that all were exposed to both chemicals. Lynn Knudtson, safety compliance director for Future Foam, said employees were never in danger of overexposure because the chemicals are confined to non-work areas, and employees use protective devices.

"The chemicals do exist there," Knudtson said. "But, the employees had respiratory equipment to use." In addition, he said, the use of methylene chloride is being phased out of the plant.

The citations also allege that the privately held company, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., did not monitor exposure levels, improperly ventilated chemicals, and provided a respirator that did not meet requirements.

Knudtson said a supplier had delayed installing equipment that would resolve those issues. He declined to name the supplier.

Future Foam's Middleton plant has had seven previous OSHA inspections with 17 serious violations. About $ 70,000 of the current fines are due to repeat violations related to citations issued in 1999.

The deadlines for clearing up the current violations are as soon as May 11, but, OSHA cannot take action on unfinished abatement until the 15-day contest period has ended, Stille said.

Knudtson said the company intends to negotiate with OSHA on the violations some time next week.

Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Copyright 2001 The Wisconsin State Journal
The Wisconsin State Journal

last updated: may.8.2001

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