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Is Kipp A Safe Place to Work? Cleaning Employee Fired by Contractor for Asking

Is Kipp A Safe Place to Work? Cleaning Employee Fired by Contractor for Asking

(Madison-Kipp Worker Pouring Molten Aluminum)

–Madison Kipp Corporation’s non-unionized manufacturing workers, and contractors brought in to clean and do other work at the factory, are at ground zero for exposures to myriad toxic chemicals emitted in aluminum die casting processes, vapors from the giant plume of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) beneath the plant, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contaminated soils being excavated all over the site. See previous posts for more background.

Yet Kipp’s CEO Tony Koblinski assured people in a community presentation on March 19 2014 that Kipp has “good people and good jobs” and is “a company in control.” [1] Further, he asserted “people like working at Kipp, they always have.”

Kipp workers we have talked to over the years do indeed seem like good people, but the stories they told us about working there are not about “good jobs” in a factory that is “in control.” Those we have talked to—usually after they quit—not only did not like working at Kipp, but they did not feel safe or healthy there.

Our review of records, in fact, shows that Kipp’s manufacturing workers and contractors have very legitimate reasons to be concerned about their health and safety. Madison Fire Department (MFD) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records on Kipp from 1990 to the present indicate that the place is anything but safe for workers. From 1998 through Feb. 2014, Madison Fire Department/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paid approximately 172 visits to the Kipp facilities on Waubesa and Atwood Ave.[2] [3] Disturbingly, well over half of these calls—we counted 113—were “emergency medical service” (EMS) calls for worker injuries and/or health problems. Some reasons for EMS calls:  chest pains, difficulty breathing, dizziness, possible heart attacks or seizures, passing out from heat, low blood pressure/fainting, lacerations/loss of blood, finger amputations, fingers caught in machines, molten metal burns, burns from propane explosion, worker hit or pinned by forklift, hit over the head, falls, sprains, and more. The first two—chest pains and breathing problems—were listed many times. Either Kipp workers are not very healthy people to begin with, or something in the facility is causing these frequent health problems—or both.[4]

Since 1990, the facility has had numerous molten metal spills, explosions, and fires—most caused by ignition of highly combustible metal dusts and filings. In addition to being obvious immediate threats to worker safety, smoke and fumes from fires and materials used to extinguish fires are often toxic and associated with respiratory problems, cancer and other long-term health problems.[5]  Kipp’s MFD and OSHA records also raise serious questions about how prepared residents near the factory, and staff at Goodman Community Center and Lowell School, are for a chlorine or other chemical accident at Kipp (or an accident involving a truck transporting chemicals to/from there on roads in the neighborhood). For more info, see here.

Cleaning worker is fired for asking if Kipp is safe, requesting not to work there

In February 2014, a worker with existing respiratory problems, who had cleaned for the company Environment Control for five years, contacted MEJO about having headaches and respiratory problems when cleaning at Kipp (which he had recently been assigned to). Several employees of this company who had cleaned at Kipp before him had already quit because they did not want to work in the foundry. He asked his managers that he be transferred to another cleaning job, but they said he would have to prove that the factory was not safe before they would take him off the Kipp job (how could a worker possibly do this?). They told him if he had a health evaluation by a doctor, validating his respiratory problems and connecting them to exposures at Kipp, they might transfer him. Not having health insurance, he could not afford to see a doctor.

He began to search for information about the kinds of toxic contaminants he might be exposed to at Kipp, and sent documents he found (including some written by top scientific experts on the kinds of contaminants found at Kipp) to his managers. Unwilling to read or believe the information he provided, they continued to refute his concerns and demand that he continue cleaning at Kipp (several hours a night, five nights a week).

Frustrated, he eventually contacted MEJO with questions. He suspected that what he was breathing in Kipp was aggravating his lungs and causing headaches. Also, he recalled that for 2-3 weeks in Jan/Feb., while PCB contaminated concrete and soils (again, see this story) were being excavated to install new machines, piles of dirt were sitting all over on the factory floor.[6] Was anything done to reduce/eliminate PCB dust levels in factory air, to protect all workers in the plant? Were workers informed of the contamination? Did they have protective gear?[7]  According to the worker, no, no, and no.[8]

He said practices in the factory seemed very sloppy.  One day while cleaning he noticed a sign in the factory that said “number of days since last accident.” The number there that day was “10.” Factory workers told him 10 days without an accident “is pretty good for Kipp.” This is a factory that is “in control”? Hmmm….

When queried, Kipp assured managers at Environment Control that the factory was perfectly safe. Kipp presented the company with a document (apparently written by Kipp’s insurance company) stating that Kipp is safe.[9]  Rather than showing concern for their employee’s health, and considering the legitimate evidence he brought forward, Environment Control managers chose to believe whatever evidence Kipp and their insurance company gave them.[10]

Sadly, in late March, after continuing to request that he not work at Kipp, the cleaning worker was fired. Apparently Environmental Control considers its employees expendable.

Kipp workers, neighbors, and others have complained of health problems for decades

Many former Kipp workers have shared stories of disturbing health and safety problems in the factory over the years. In 1996, a person who worked at Kipp through 1989 (but believed that the conditions there remained unsafe or got worse after that) wrote a summary of some of the unhealthy conditions in the factory and environmental problems. Another former worker said that there were cases in which workers collapsed from fumes.

Kipp workers aren’t the only ones who have experienced health problems at Kipp. In July 1994, a DNR employee, investigating an odor complaint submitted by a neighbor, smelled a “metallic, solvent-like odor.” Her official statement about this incident says that within five minutes of leaving the plant after the investigation: “I experienced a dizzy, woozy feeling. My face and fingers felt numb and tingly, my heart was pounding, and I found my breathing rapid and shallow. My proprioreception was disrupted and I did not believe I could safely drive.”

In the last few years, there have been similar odd cases of people suddenly suffering health effects near Kipp.  In 2009, the Fire Department responded to situation in which a 10-year old child walking back from a school field trip felt faint and laid down on the grass on Atwood Avenue in front of the Kipp factory (it is unclear whether this incident was connected to any Kipp emissions—but it raises questions). In 2012, a bicyclist was riding on the bike path behind the Atwood plant, smelled a noxious odor that he connected with Kipp, and became nauseous.

Hundreds of reports have been submitted to local agencies over the last two decades by residents in the neighborhood about noxious smells from Kipp—especially the smell of chlorine and/or a “waxy/oily/burnt” smell. According to a 2001 report, “Evaluation of Community Exposure to Emissions from Madison Kipp Corporation,” people “identified both of these odors as the cause of acute illness including asthma attacks, sore throat, nausea vomiting etc.” and goes on to say “it is reasonable to assume that reports of chlorine odors originate from the aluminum melting and drossing process” and “emission of chlorine from this process is the most likely source of these odor complaints.” It also notes that “waxy/oily/burnt” smell in the neighborhood is from the die casting process but that “the chemical composition of this odor is unknown.”

Odor complaints have continued in recent years.[11] In early 2013, a resident on S. Marquette St., next to Kipp, emailed public health agency staff saying that 5 or 6 times in the last several years, he and his wife had “noticed the strong smell of burning rubber or plastic emitting from the basement stairs in our home,” particularly after heavy rainstorms or large snow melt-off events.” He noted that the smell “is not dissimilar to one of the odors that we occasionally smell outdoors and that the neighborhood generally associates with MKC.” He recalled a day in late 2012 in which “several in our neighborhood reported smelling a chlorine smell coming from the MKC property,” and he personally detected a “fairly strong burning rubber smell outdoors.”

Despite all of these worker and neighborhood complaints over the years, public health agencies have insisted many times that there are no harmful exposures in the neighborhood around Kipp—even while admitting many times in the 2001 report that there is not enough data to make this determination. As we described in previous articles (see here and here), a group of citizens from the community worked with government health agencies for nearly two years to develop a health study in the Kipp area, but the study was eventually dropped, for reasons that are unclear. Many suspect that Kipp played a role in shutting the study down.

Meanwhile, none of the DNR or public health agency reports, documents, or communications to date (we have reviewed thousands of pages of them) have even mentioned, let alone expressed concern about, potential exposures to workers inside the plant. Apparently manufacturing workers, most of whom are citizens of Madison and Dane County, are not included in their definition of “public health.”

Many respiratory irritants and toxins emitted in aluminum die casting facilities…

The fired cleaning worker’s aggravated respiratory symptoms and headaches in the factory parallel Madison Fire Department visits to the factory to attend to workers with chest pains, breathing problems, dizziness, and related symptoms. Moreover, Kipp’s terrible worker health, safety and OSHA records indicate that Kipp is doing far from an adequate job inside the factory protecting their workers from exposures to harmful chemicals, regardless of whether or not they meet standards (which is unknown, due to lack of adequate data). Many existing workplace health standards, heavily influenced by industry lobbying, are known to be far too lax and not adequate to protect workers’ health.

What are Kipp’s workers exposed to?  Releases from Kipp’s stacks aren’t all the same as what’s in factory air, but can tell us something about what chemicals the facility uses and emits into factory air.

As of 2004, EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) listed the following as top air releases in aluminum die casting industries all over the U.S: aluminum (fume or dust), trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, zinc (fume or dust), zinc compounds, copper, hexachloroethane, glycol ethers.[12] Unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult to find out what comes out of Madison-Kipp stacks in particular—in part due to industry’s political lobbying to keep this information out of the public realm, inadequate monitoring and lax regulatory approaches [13] .  Madison-Kipp’s 2012 DNR Air Emissions Inventory Report lists the following emissions: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, hydrogen chloride, and “reactive organic gas” or ROG (otherwise known as volatile organic chemicals or VOCs). Many of Kipp’s most toxic emissions, however, are not reported on Kipp’s air inventories—or were in the past but are no longer .[14] [15] [16]  For instance, Kipp also emits dioxins and furans (among the most toxic compounds ever studied), aluminum salts, fluorides, fluorinated compounds, chlorine, chlorinated and chlorofluorinated compounds, numerous metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and several other toxic compounds that are not listed on the inventories.

Just as problematically, the chemical composition of emissions from Kipp’s die casting processes—which include reactive organic gases (ROGs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), small particulates, metals, and a mix of other contaminants found in oil mists associated with metalworking fluids used as die lubricants (discussed in more detail later)—have never been assessed.[17] The “emissions factors” used to assess the levels of ROGs and particulates emitted from the die casters are old and inadequate (based on tests done in the mid-90s), and Kipp has added many more die cast machines since the time they were developed. So the estimated levels of ROGs and particulates on inventories are likely too low. (Several years ago, Kipp raised its stacks higher in order to disperse these compounds, associated with the “waxy/oily/burnt” smell nearby residents have complained about for years, further out into the community. Given this, it defies common sense (and science) to assert–as Mr. Koblinski did on March 19–that none of the PAHs and other contaminants found in nearby residential soils are from the facility. The elaborate (but problematic) statistical analyses by Kipp’s consultants, and comparisons to background samples obtained by government agencies (which certainly included some of Kipp’s PAHs, dispersed widely around the community via taller stacks) do not prove that none of the PAHs and other contaminants found in soils offsite came from Kipp).

As a result of inadequate reporting and data gaps, it is difficult for citizens or workers to track what Kipp is really emitting outside or inside the plant. Efforts by the Madison Department of Public Health (now called Public Health Madison Dane County, PHMDC) to assess exposures in the Kipp neighborhood were aborted because of limited or no air monitoring. Ultimately the agency concluded in its 2001 report that there were too many data gaps to draw any conclusions, and recommended more air monitoring. Unfortunately, 13 years after this report was written, no further air monitoring around Kipp has been done.

What are workers breathing inside Kipp?

Many of the compounds emitted from Kipp’s stacks are likely found to some degree inside the factory, where workers are exposed to a number of them at the same time. Unfortunately, even less information is publicly available about chemical exposures inside Kipp than is available about outdoor emissions.[18] Regardless, several of the compounds listed above and known to be emitted from, and found inside, aluminum die casting facilities, can aggravate respiratory problems and a range of other health effects. Kipp workers have also been breathing unknown levels of toxic vapors from beneath the plant, which include tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride (VC), and other VOCs known to aggravate respiratory problems and headaches. Most of these chemicals are also associated in scientific studies with a number of serious long-term health problems, including cancer.

Next we discuss some of the above compounds that are most likely aggravating respiratory and other acute problems among workers. We discuss the sparse data available from monitoring inside of Kipp, what it can (or cannot) tell us about exposures to Kipp workers, and government agency actions (or lack thereof) related to Kipp workers’ health and safety.

If you have read this far, and are interested in learning more about what we have learned, please email us at info@mejo.us.



[1] The talk was most likely written by Kipp’s law firm, Michael Best & Friederich

[2] These numbers are approximate (possibly underestimated) due to gaps in records; they also don’t include Fire/EMS calls to the Sun Prairie facility.

[3] While some of these recorded calls were false alarms, we have heard that many times there are close calls (near-miss accidents and fires, etc) for which nobody ever calls the Fire Department, in part because management wants to keep the official fire call record as low as possible. Consequently, the official number of calls in records is likely an underestimate of the actual number of accidents, fires, and worker illnesses.

[4] Kipp’s lowest-end manufacturing workers, contractor cleaning employees, and temporary workers include ex-offenders, homeless people, and a significant proportion of minorities. Sadly, statistics show that these groups are likely to be much less healthy than more privileged people—making them even more vulnerable to health problems from exposures to contaminants in Kipp. Many also lack health insurance. This is a significant environmental justice issue that has been completely ignored by Kipp and the government agencies responsible for protecting public health in Madison/Dane Co. and Wisconsin.

[5] A fire on August 1, 1992 sent four firefighters to the hospital after they inhaled noxious fumes. The Aug. 2 1992 Madison newspaper article on this fire, titled “Molten Flames,” says that the building filled with smoke and noxious fumes.

[6]  He only found out about it after coming across it on the MEJO website.

[7] Some of the precautions EPA recommends when excavating contaminated soil: “Handling contaminated soil requires precautions to ensure safety. Site workers are trained to follow safety procedures while excavating soil to avoid contact with contaminants…Site workers typically wear protective clothing such as rubber gloves, boots, hard hats, and coveralls. These items are either washed or disposed of before leaving the site to keep workers from carrying contaminated soil offsite on their shoes and clothing…Workers monitor the air to make sure dust and contaminant vapors are not present at levels that may pose a breathing risk, and monitors may be placed around the site to ensure that dust or vapors are not leaving it. Site workers close to the excavation may need to wear “respirators,” which are face masks equipped with filters that remove dust and contaminants from the air…

[8] Now the new machinery is installed, the dirt was hauled away, and the floors cleaned up. The area was re-painted and is clean and shiny.

[9] From what we understand (not having seen this document), the last inspection in Kipp for insurance purposes was 3 years ago.

[10] Mr. Koblinski said in his March 19 presentation that the company’s current priorities include “managing health risks to employees” and “communicating openly with the neighborhood.” If this is the case, the company should openly share the health and safety assessments done inside the factory by insurance companies and other third parties. If they are unwilling to share these assessments, what are they hiding?  On the other hand, if the assessments are comprehensive and state of the art, and show that the factory is safe, that would be reassuring to workers and the neighborhood. So why won’t Kipp share them?

[11] In the weeks just before this article was written, residents near Kipp have reported increased odors from the plant, including a particularly acrid smell that seems new to them.

[12] Dalquist and Gutkowski, 2004

[13] Again, see previous articles

[14] In Wisconsin, industry (likely including MKC) lobbied to not report certain emissions on public inventories at all unless they were modeled at over NR 438 levels. See previous article describing some of these issues, particularly as they relate to dioxins and chlorinated compounds, among Kipp’s most toxic emissions.

[15] Given that Kipp purportedly no longer uses tetrachoroethylene (PCE) (and it is not clear whether they still use trichloroethylene, TCE), it is unknown whether Kipp has or still does emit these compounds from its stacks; PCE, TCE, and their breakdown product, vinyl chloride, have never been tested for in Kipp’ air stack emissions. They are being emitted (and monitored) from soil vapor extraction (SVE) systems on the site. It’s unknown what compounds Kipp used to replace PCE—and what kinds of emissions might be associated with these replacement chemicals

[16] MEJO has asked government agencies several times what Kipp replaced PCE/TCE and PCBs with, but have never received answers.

[17] Levels of ROGs listed on Kipp’s inventories have increased significantly in recent years, from 17.4 tons in 2008  to just over 26  tons in 2012 (2013 and 2014 levels are not available yet). Of course, these levels do not include VOCs being emitted from vapor extraction systems all over the site.

[18] Air monitoring in aluminum die casting facilities has been relatively scant—in part due to die-cast industry’s competitiveness, success in withholding proprietary information about the chemicals they use, and resistance to any monitoring in their plants.

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“Mother Nature, though wounded, begins to take care of it,” says polluter

“Mother Nature, though wounded, begins to take care of it,” says polluter

At a March 19 public presentation, the president of Madison-Kipp Corporation described various pollution remediation actions that the aluminum parts manufacturer is belatedly being forced to do by the Wisconsin DNR, as a result of decades of citizen complaints and recent lawsuits. A sparsely attended meeting at the Goodman Community Center, adjacent to Kipp, was the setting for the hour long presentation by its CEO, Tony Koblinski.

Describing the expansive Kipp PCE  pollution plume that extends underground through the Atwood neighborhood, Koblinski assured attendees that over time “Mother Nature, though wounded, begins to take care of it.”

About a dozen public officials from various state, county and city agencies sat at tables in the back, but did not speak even once during the meeting (though many of Mr. Koblinski’s statements were unsubstantiated by the evidence and/or incorrect). We have never seen a neighborhood meeting to address environmental and human health concerns completely turned over to the polluter, as was done at this meeting. Now we know what it looks like. It was very disturbing.

MEJO videotaped the event, over the objections of Koblinski who apparently has never been to a public meeting (where this is commonplace). Click the links below to watch the video, which is being presented as part of the public record regarding this ongoing saga of a loud and smelly old factory, a century of pollution, and a residential neighborhood.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

[This is the entire presentation, except for few seconds at the beginning that we missed and the times when we switched out full video cards.]
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Medical researchers say brain disorders tied to industrial chemicals

Medical researchers say brain disorders tied to industrial chemicals

“Children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements and damaging societies” according to a new Lancet Neurology article. Also read more here.

In other words, toxins emitted from Kipp and other industries have significant long-term and irreversible effects on our children, our educational system, and our whole society. Here’s the abstract from the Lancet Neurology article by Dr. Grandjean and Dr. Landrigan:

“Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence. In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity. To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.”

EIGHT of the chemicals highlighted as the most damaging to the developing brain are known to be emitted from Madison Kipp Corporation and/or have been found in soils, groundwater and/or air at the site. This factory is just feet away from homes, schools, daycare centers, and a community center that focuses on programs for low income and minority children.

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High Levels of PCBs Being Excavated from Kipp’s Floors—Are Workers Protected?

High Levels of PCBs Being Excavated from Kipp’s Floors—Are Workers Protected?

(Two Kipp Workers, photo by John Hart, Madison.com). According to a recent letter  from Kipp to the DNR, Kipp has been excavating inside the factory, and finding PCBs in concrete floors hundreds of times above the residual contact levels (levels considered safe for direct contact) in some places. This is not surprising, given that up to 20,000 ppm PCBs have been found beneath the factory floor, as we reported in our previous post. All of these PCB contaminated materials are also very likely contaminated with dioxins—among the most toxic chemicals ever studied (significantly more toxic than PCBs).

This raises more questions for our “Unanswered Questions: Madison-Kipp Unbound” series: What is being done right now to protect Kipp’s non-unionized workers as these highly PCB contaminated materials are being excavated? What machines (referred to in the letter) are being installed? Who is doing the excavation? What is being done—and has been done in the past—to protect workers from the myriad toxic contaminants used at Kipp, emitted into factory air, and sloshed around on the floor? Are tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and other toxic vapors seeping into the plant from the giant contaminant plume below the floor?  Has anyone measured? What about the workers who clean Kipp? Are they and other workers aware of the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxins in floors, walls, and air? Do they have adequate protective gear? What are Kipp Corporation and the relevant government agencies doing to assure that workers are not exposed to toxic contaminants?

Are Kipp Worker Exposures Even on Radar Screen of Government Agencies…?

Madison Kipp’s non-unionized workers—which include many minorities, as well as some ex-offenders—are among the most exposed to the factory’s toxic pollution. Kipp also hires a number of low-wage LTEs (limited term employees) during busy times, and at times employs homeless people.[1]Various companies are contracted to clean Kipp and remove wastes; cleaning Kipp and removing wastes likely involve exposures to a stew of toxic contaminants.[2]

Yet even as PCE, PCB, TCE (trichloroethylene), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), vinyl chloride, dioxins, heavy metals, and myriad other contaminants have been measured in soils and groundwater under Kipp, and/or emitted into factory air and from stacks, local and state government agencies and elected officials apparently are not very concerned about the health and safety of the manufacturing workers at the plant. In our reviews of thousands of pages of documents and communications from local and state agencies, we have not seen anything about assessing exposures to Kipp factory workers, assuring that they are protected, or communicating with them about potential exposures in and around the plant.[3]  Even public health agencies don’t seem to be concerned about workers’ health and well-being at all—or if they are, it is not evident anywhere.

What about the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has an office in Madison? It’s our understanding that OSHA doesn’t investigate workplace exposures unless there is a formal complaint. While OSHA has been in Kipp several times in the last 10-15 years to investigate a number of serious worker accidents, and has issued numerous citations for significant safety violations (see next story), we have found no evidence that OSHA staff have ever investigated worker exposures to PCEs, PCBs, or any of the other highly toxic contaminants found at Kipp in recent years—nor has OSHA been involved in helping to develop strategies to protect workers from harmful exposures to these contaminants .[4]

When MEJO met with four DNR managers on Jan. 29 2014, we asked whether they had ever contacted OSHA and they said “no”—but “they will.” Shouldn’t the DNR and its city/county and state health agency collaborators have contacted OSHA many years ago, especially as the enormous plume of toxic compounds was documented under the plant, with a high potential for vapor intrusion into the factory (however, see footnote #3)? Why haven’t they contacted OSHA to get guidance on assessing worker exposures and ways to best protect workers as toxic materials are excavated all around the plant? Do DNR staff have training in assessing workplace exposures to dusts and particulates, vapors, VOCs, PCBs? Are they industrial hygienists? Is the EPA, involved with the PCB portion of the Kipp investigation, assuring that workers are protected from PCB exposures?

Of course, Kipp’s non-unionized manufacturing workers are very unlikely to complain to OSHA or anyone, for a number of reasons. Most are unaware of the toxins around them and/or serious implications for their health and their children’s health (if they are women of childbearing age). Even if they are aware, they are very unlikely to complain to superiors or say anything publicly, because they do not want to jeopardize their jobs.  Not being unionized, they have no organization to protect and represent them in complaints against their employer. They are probably very grateful to have a job—any job. Some, like homeless people and ex-offenders, have few other choices.

Sadly, this scenario fits a classic pattern of environmental injustice: the most vulnerable people—also the least privileged, least likely to have the capacities and resources to protect themselves, and with fewer alternatives available to them as far as work—are ignored by government and other powers-that-be.

Why have government agencies, public officials, media, and even neighborhood groups not raised questions about the health and safety of Kipp’s workers? With jobs and economic growth currently the top priority on all sides of the political spectrum, public officials on the left and right are reluctant to do or say anything that might threaten jobs.

MEJO does not want Kipp workers to lose their means of supporting themselves and their families. But they deserve safe and healthy work that will not increase their (or their children’s) risks for serious health problems—problems that will likely create even more socioeconomic challenges for them in the future.

Again: What are Madison Kipp, responsible government agencies, and elected officials doing to assure that Kipp workers are protected from toxic exposures?

To be continued in next post…

People out there–comments, answers, questions, corrections? Please send to: info@mejo.us. THANKS!!!


[1] MEJO members know people who worked at Kipp while homeless (though they are still homeless, they no longer work there). Sadly, one said he couldn’t keep the job because he kept falling asleep at work. Another recalled sloppy practices in the plant. See the next post…

[2] MEJO members have talked to people who cleaned at Kipp and suffered health effects while there.

[3] Ironically, a recent Kipp consultant report revealed that Kipp would be assessing vapor intrusion only in the office portions of the plant. Why not the manufacturing portions? Are they concerned about Kipp’s managers and administrative staff but not the manufacturing workers, cleaning contractors, and other temporary workers?

[4] In 2011, OSHA did a very limited one-time assessment of aluminum dust.

 

 

 

 

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Environmental Injustices At Verona Road Continue…

Environmental Injustices At Verona Road Continue…

Steve Glass posted an excellent blog, with photos by David Thompson, about the social and environmental injustices related to the ongoing Verona Road Interchange reconstruction project.

Several years ago, MEJO was asked by people in the Allied-Dunn’s Marsh neighborhoods to help address the potential environmental health impacts from this huge construction project and the air, noise, and water pollution resulting from the increased traffic after the interchange is built. We wrote these comments to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Sadly, the communities’ and MEJO’s questions and concerns about health effects from this project were largely dismissed by WisDOT and other local and state agencies. See our 2010 commentary here.

Now, several years later, Mr. Glass’s blog reveals that environmental justice in this already very challenged and underserved neighborhood continues to be a low priority here in Madison. Apparently even the most basic steps to control runoff and toxic air particulates from construction aren’t being implemented, and it seems local and state authorities responsible for enforcing construction runoff regulations are looking the other way.

This is sad. If this pollution was happening in a privileged Madison neighborhood, would it be ignored? We suspect not.

 

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Kipp Settles Lawsuit, Silences Neighbors with Money, and Denies Responsibility

Kipp Settles Lawsuit, Silences Neighbors with Money, and Denies Responsibility

 

The class action lawsuit against Madison-Kipp Corporation (MKC) was approved in U.S. District Court on Oct. 28 in a hearing that lasted a few minutes. The judge, lawyers, and two neighbors who represented the class said they were very pleased with the settlement, in which each class member will receive an average of $80,000. The judge, who said she received a letter from the DNR commending the settlement, asked no questions at all. The mood was pleasant and congratulatory. No doubt, champagne bottles were popped on all sides after this short hearing.

Should we all breathe easy now that the truth has been told and justice served? Far from it. In the settlement document, Kipp denies all lawsuit allegations—in other words, claims it didn’t cause the pollution or any related environmental or health problems. Ironically, Kipp also agrees to do what the DNR and EPA ask “to address environmental conditions at and migrating from the facility” (wait, didn’t Kipp deny causing the pollution?) but only “while fully and expressly reserving any and all rights to challenge, appeal, object to, or litigate any decision by WDNR or USEPA…”

In sum, Kipp denies causing pollution while admitting it, and agrees to do what DNR and EPA asks—well, unless they object to it. Apparently, our DNR thinks this dishonest doublespeak is A-OK.

Perhaps most troubling, the settlement money comes with a steep moral price for class lawsuit members who didn’t opt out:  silence about Kipp’s pollution, silence about what they believe, silence about the truth. It’s hush money. To get their money, class members had to agree that “they have not been diagnosed with, are not aware of, and do not have any symptoms that they suspect could be associated with any sickness, disease, or physical injury which may have been caused to them by the action or inaction” of Kipp. The settlement also includes a stipulation that class members “will not make any statements or representations relating to the claims and allegations asserted in the lawsuit, or direct any other Person to make any statements or representations relating to the claims and allegations asserted in the lawsuit, that disparage or otherwise impair the reputation, goodwill, or commercial interest of any other party hereto or their respective counsel.”

What wheeling, dealing, and political pressure went on behind the scenes among Kipp, DNR, and lawyers on both sides to come up with this duplicitous agreement? We’ll never know.

Do all the class members really not believe they have any health problems caused by Kipp’s pollution? Or not even suspect they have health problems that might be associated with it? Of course not. Several people in the class lawsuit have serious health problems, including cancer, that they believe are associated with Kipp’s pollution. Some suspect birth defects in the neighborhood over the years were connected to Kipp’s pollution. Others have mentioned neighbors who already died, they think, from Kipp’s pollution.

So why did they sign this agreement? Some don’t seem to understand what they agreed to. Regardless, they want this stressful Kipp fiasco to be over so they can move on with their lives. They all need the money. It’s very understandable. They certainly deserve money for their years of exposures to Kipp’s toxic pollution—though no amount of money can really compensate for this.

Remarkably, just one neighbor—one who needs the money just as much as others, if not more—had the courage and integrity to opt-out of the class lawsuit, foregoing the settlement money entirely, in order to continue speaking the truth about Kipp’s pollution and health problems without fear of retribution from Kipp. This person put truth and honesty before money.

Despite the lawsuit, Kipp’s huge plume of highly toxic contaminants continues to spread beneath the neighborhood towards the aquifer and the lakes. The factory’s air stacks continue to spew pollution into the neighborhood and beyond. All citizens will be paying for Kipp’s pollution indefinitely—with our dollars, our health, and the health of wildlife and the environment. Our children and grandchildren will be paying for it. We need as many courageous people as possible to continue speaking out publicly about this.

So, THANK YOU to the incredible, courageous person who opted out of the Kipp lawsuit!

 

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Fireworks Over Downtown Madison Pose No Long-term Health Risks? We Disagree

Fireworks Over Downtown Madison Pose No Long-term Health Risks? We Disagree

Jeff Lafferty of Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) assured the public in recent newspaper articlesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA that the huge Rhythm & Booms fireworks show planned for downtown Madison in 2014 poses no long-term public health risks. In response, here’s the statement we wrote after PHMDC discounted environmental and public health risks of the Warner Park Rhythm & Booms show, based on studies before and after the 2013 show. The same arguments are relevant now in considering the public and environmental health risks of a huge downtown fireworks show. Here’s what we wrote:

Why is Public Health Madison Dane County more interested in protecting the fireworks show than in protecting public and environmental health?

In a recent op-ed, Janel Heinrich, the Director of Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) questions comments made by the northside grassroots group Wild Warner on the ecological effects of Rhythm & Booms fireworks. Ms Heinrich asserts that the group “exaggerates” findings of a 2012 Rhythm & Booms fireworks study and that their claims about environmental effects of this huge fireworks display are “speculation” and “opinion.”

Unfortunately, Ms Heinrich resorts to speculation and opinion herself rather than drawing on a large body of scientific research—or even reviewing results of her own department’s 2005 Rhythm & Booms fireworks’ study and comparing them to the 2012 results.  The 2005 PHMDC study showed significant spikes in several toxic metals in Warner lagoon surface water after both Madison Mallard and Rhythm & Booms fireworks shows. In fact, based on their results, public health department staff, the authors of the report, concluded that “firework displays at Warner Park do impact the water quality in the lagoon in the park.”

Did metal concentrations after the 2012 show (unlike after the 2005 show) really show “no discernable change,” as Ms Heinrich highlights? Did emissions from the 2012 fireworks somehow not fall onto the lagoon beneath them? This is extremely unlikely (if not impossible), but unfortunately, the 2012 study did not include appropriate background samples, making it difficult to see spikes in chemicals in the lagoon after Rhythm & Booms. In the 2005 study, background water samples and post-fireworks samples were timed in a way that could detect spikes in metals emitted from fireworks in Warner lagoon after the fireworks. Still, interestingly the 2012 pre- and post-fireworks water levels of some metals, such as barium and strontium, were significantly higher than 2005 pre- and post-fireworks samples.

Public health authors of the 2005 report also concluded that the toxic metals emitted from the fireworks “most likely sank into the sediment in the lagoon upon reaching the water.” In other words, they knew that decreases in metals in water in the weeks after the show did not mean they magically disappeared—but that they moved elsewhere in the environment (most likely the sediments). Ms Heinrich, in contrast, states that perchlorate decreased to background levels in surface water after the 2012 fireworks “due to microbial degradation”—a claim based on speculation, not evidence, from the draft report—and “dilution,” which is just another way of saying it spread out and went elsewhere. Perchlorate is highly mobile in the environment. Since perchlorate wasn’t tested for anywhere else, we don’t really know where it went after the 2012 show or previous shows. Not knowing where it went does not mean it is no longer there.

Further, it is disturbing that our public health department director expressed no concern whatsoever about the human health effects of this huge fireworks show and others like it. Many studies show that fireworks displays emit numerous toxic metals (strontium, barium, lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and more), dioxins, and radioactive materials into the air at times at levels well above urban background levels (which include automobile exhaust). One study found over 500 times more barium in the snow after a fireworks show than that measured before the show. Another study found numerous metals in air well above background levels—including strontium 86 times above, cobalt nine times, and lead seven times above background air levels. Neither the 2005 nor the 2012  Rhythm & Booms studies tested air during or after the shows, but many of these contaminants were likely in the air at similar levels as those found in these studies.

Fireworks contaminants fall as tiny particulates onto the people attending shows—including many infants and children—who then have no choice but to inhale them. Inhalation of particulates emitted from fireworks causes spikes in asthma and cardiovascular attacks—and emergency room visits rise during fireworks shows and in the days immediately following them. Children, elderly, asthmatics, and people with cardiovascular problems are particularly at risk. The effects are not just limited to the areas immediately under the shows. Clouds of fireworks contaminants often travel to other parts of the city, where they can linger for days.

Wild Warner’s statements about effects of fireworks chemicals on wildlife and the environment are also far from “speculation” and “opinion.” Firstly, no scientific study is required to understand that contaminants released from hundreds if not thousands of pounds of exploding fireworks fall onto land, water, people, and wildlife beneath the shows. More importantly, it is well-documented scientifically that once in the environment, heavy metals and chlorinated compounds are highly persistent, build up in ecological food webs over time, and affect wildlife health. These effects were not assessed in the recent studies, but that doesn’t mean they did not or will not occur over time as chemicals from yearly fireworks shows build up in the environment.

Basic ecology tells us that once toxic contaminants are in the ecological food web, they usually find their way into human bodies as well, though it may take a long time. Contaminants build up in sediments, then aquatic organisms and plants, then fish and wildlife, and then people. Subsistence anglers who fish in Warner Park and other Madison lakes—many of whom are low-income people of color who rely on fish as a food source—are particularly vulnerable because they eat fish regularly. Toxic metals and organochlorines in fish end up in their bodies and brains, potentially causing neurological, immune, endocrine, and other problems years after they ate the fish.

It is troubling, to say the least, that Madison’s public health department seems so eager to discount concerns about environmental and public health risks from this huge fireworks display, especially given the abundant scientific evidence that these concerns are merited.  Why is Public Health Madison Dane County more interested in protecting the fireworks show than in protecting public and environmental health?

 

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Neighbors Settle for $7.2 Million But Many Kipp Environmental Injustices Still Not Addressed

The immediate neighbors around the Madison-Kipp Corp. factory settled their two class action lawsuits on Monday, July 15. The immediate neighbors and their attorneys will receive a total of $7.2 million and there will be additional pollution remediation at those plaintiffs’ properties. The $4.6 million federal court settlement can be found here; the $2.6 million state court settlement will be posted later.

Meanwhile, Kipp continues to pollute; nothing about its operations has changed and existing PCE plumes and PCB problems continue to affect children of color and the elderly at the Goodman Community Center (a neighbor that did not join the class action lawsuit), as well as Lowell Elementary School,  adjacent businesses, a wide swath of the surrounding Atwood neighborhood, a water well and Lake Monona.

A partial list of ongoing concerns:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to negotiate with Madison-Kipp about the EPA Notice of Violation issued last fall regarding serious air pollution violations involving chlorine, dioxin, and other hazardous air pollution emissions.
  • The PCB remediation around Kipp continues (will DNR ever test for dioxin, a contaminant found in PCBs)? Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals ever studied
  • Preferential pathways for PCE contamination (utility corridors, sewers, storm drains) were never addressed at Kipp. So the full extent of shallow contamination offsite is unknown–which means the full extent of vapor intrusion in homes and businesses around Kipp is also unknown.
  • The extent of the PCE plume still isn’t fully defined; How deep is it? How far north does it go? How far south? Has it reached the lake?
  • Children at the Goodman Community Center are building raised-bed gardens about 50 feet from the most contaminated area at Kipp
  • High levels of contamination sit right under Goodman’s Ironworks Café. Nobody has assessed the depth of this contamination and whether it is causing vapor intrusion in the café. Why not?
  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice lawsuit regarding PCBs is still active
  • The Madison Water Utility is still unsure if it can use Well 8, down plume from Kipp’s PCE contamination and next to Lake Monona in Olbrich Park

To date, no public agencies nor elected officials have addressed–or even mentioned in reams of reports to date–pollution exposures to children at the Goodman Community Center and Lowell Elementary School. Are they completely unaware of what environmental justice means?

When will this change?

 

 

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Ignorance is Bliss (Series Supplement)

Remember the Kipp Dioxin Debacle?

Lo and Behold, Kipp Has Been Producing Dioxins All This Time! (shhhh…..)

Dioxin from Kipp’s Stacks? An “Urban Myth” of “Misinformed Activists”!

The issue of whether or not Kipp produced dioxins was a focal point of citizen activism around Kipp for years (see previous article). Throughout the 1990s, many citizens in the Kipp neighborhood1 asserted that dioxins were produced by the factory, but Kipp denied the possibility that the factory could produce them. In 2000, citizens formed a group called Clean Air Madison (CAM), which organized meetings, wrote letters and press releases, and held protests about Kipp’s air pollution.

Read: MEJO Ignorance is Bliss Special Supplement 1

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Ignorance is Bliss (Part 3 )

Toxic Contaminants at Madison-Kipp? Don’t Worry, There’s No Risk!

Overview: Toxic Contaminants From Above and Below

The U.S. EPA Notice of Violation that Madison-Kipp Corporation (Kipp) received in September 2012 raises many questions about the factory’s ongoing toxic air emissions and health effects among people living, playing, working, and going to school near Kipp—especially kids, elderly, ill, and other vulnerable people in the neighborhood. Lowell School, with an over 50% poverty rate, and Goodman Community Center, which serves many minority and low-income children, are right next to the factory. Knowing what’s really coming out of Kipp’s air stacks is more important than ever given what’s now known about the toxic brew of chemicals that has been spreading in soils and groundwater beneath the plant and seeping into neighborhood homes and buildings for decades. People in the Kipp neighborhood are exposed to numerous toxic chemicals from below and above—not just one chemical at a time. How is this affecting people’s health in the neighborhood? Nobody knows…

The recent EPA notice cited Kipp for inaccurate calculations and shoddy (or absent) record-keeping that could underestimate or hide emissions of hazardous air pollutants, especially chlorine, hydrogen chloride, and other highly toxic chlorinated compounds such as dioxin. EPA also cited Kipp for questionable practices inside the factory that could increase their emissions of toxic compounds. Yet this is nothing new. Kipp has shoddily reported, or failed to report, its toxic emissions for decades, making it next to impossible to assess what people in the neighborhood are exposed to day after day. Over the years, former Kipp workers and government employees have reported sloppy and unsafe practices inside the factory—including ongoing spills, broken and leaky storage containers, and the burning of dirty scrap in aluminum furnaces (a practice known to produce dioxin). The company has had numerous fires, accidents, and OSHA violations.

Meanwhile, for decades hundreds of citizens in the Kipp neighborhood have complained of toxic fumes and noise at Kipp, and raised questions about emissions of harmful chlorinated compounds such as dioxin. Countless health complaints and letters have been submitted to government agencies by citizens, including many asking for more thorough air monitoring and health studies. Hundreds of citizens have packed public meetings on Kipp.

Though a few government agency representatives have expressed some concern and taken some actions regarding Kipp’s pollution throughout all these years, for the most part public officials and agency representatives seem to be more interested in defending Kipp and assuring citizens that the factory poses low or no risks, even when abundant evidence exists to the contrary. Several health studies have been considered by public health agencies, but were dropped.

In 2013, decades after citizens first started raising questions about Kipp emissions—and in the midst of citizen lawsuits and EPA violations against the company—we still don’t really know how much dioxin and other hazardous pollutants are spewing out of the factory’s many stacks and pipes. Nobody knows exactly how deep and wide the plume of toxic contaminant the originated on the Kipp property decades ago is, even though that information is essential for assessing exposures and risks to people living around Kipp—and to the environment in Madison. Why not? And why do our government agencies seem more interested in serving and protecting Kipp, and other polluting industries, than in protecting the citizens they are paid to serve?

Parts 3 and 4 in this series focus on citizens’ struggles to address the factory’s pollution—and how Kipp and local and state government agencies have responded to citizens. Part 3 focuses on the period roughly between 1990 through the early 2000s, and Part 4, which will follow in coming weeks, will cover the early 2000s to the present.

Full article: MEJO Ignorance is Bliss Part 3

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