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Foxconn’s Horrific Worker Safety & Environmental Record Coming to Wisconsin??

Foxconn’s Horrific Worker Safety & Environmental Record Coming to Wisconsin??

Photo: Fire at Foxconn factory in China.

“State officials and lawmakers are working on an incentive package to lure giant Taiwanese iPhone manufacturer Foxconn to Wisconsin,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported on July 21, 2017.

Foxconn would like to build a $7 billion plant in the U.S. to build display panels for Apple iPhones and iPads, and is considering several states for a factory. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told WSJ that lawmakers are talking about “huge, big numbers” to offer Foxconn to lure them to Wisconsin.

According to the WSJ article, Foxconn has explored several potential sites for a factory in southeastern and central Wisconsin, including in Dane County. Company officials have held a number of private meetings with politicians to negotiate options, but Fitzgerald said so far “all negotiations with the company are being conducted with the administration and have not significantly included legislators.” Governor Walker hosted Foxconn founder and chairman Terry Gou at his Maple Bluff mansion last week.

Oddly, recent local news stories about Wisconsin politicians’ proposed incentives to lure Foxconn here have not raised any questions about the company’s horrific environmental and worker safety record in China, where it has manufactured devices for Apple and other companies for years. A simple google search on the company quickly pulls up numerous articles about Foxconn factory explosions, worker accidents, deaths, and toxic environmental pollution.

In 2010, 18 Foxconn workers jumped to their deaths due to despair over working conditions in the factory. Here’s what happened after the Foxconn suicides. In 2011, an explosion killed three workers at a Foxconn plant.

Here’s a sampling of other articles about Foxconn’s appalling environmental and worker safety issues:

Workers Sickened by Apple Supplier in China

By the Numbers: Life and Death at Foxconn

In China, Human Costs are Built Into iPad

Apple’s Chinese Suppliers in Trouble For Environmental Pollution

China’s Apple Suppliers Face Toxic Heavy Metal Water Pollution Charges

Dying for an iPhone: the lives of Chinese workers

Some people will undoubtedly argue that Foxconn won’t get away with sickening its workers and spewing toxic pollution into waterways here in Wisconsin, as they do in China. These optimists should be reminded of Wisconsin DNR’s record of letting industrial polluters off the hook for significant regulatory violations (e.g., see here, here, and here). What will Walker’s industry-friendly DNR allow Foxconn to get away with in Wisconsin?

Politicians are excited by the promise of thousands of new jobs in the state, but hopefully everyone will not put their heads in the sand about Foxconn’s record. Before they welcome Foxconn here with huge incentives, legislators and citizens better wake up and start asking questions about the company’s worker safety and environmental record and how responsibly the company would operate here—and about how diligent Wisconsin’s DNR and state OSHA offices will be in enforcing our already inadequate worker safety and environmental regulations. Jobs that make workers sick (or kill them)—and pollute their air, drinking water, local waterways and fish—are not good jobs, even if Wisconsin politicians promote them as such.

Below, workers at a Foxconn factory in China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EPA proposes the first chemical ban in 27 years–TCE

EPA proposes the first chemical ban in 27 years–TCE

From Environmental Defense Fund, by Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Today, EPA issued a proposed rule to ban uses of trichloroethylene (TCE) as a spot cleaning agent in dry cleaning and as an aerosol spray degreaser in commercial and consumer settings. This marks the first time in 27 years EPA is proposing to restrict the use of a chemical and represents a significant milestone under the Lautenberg Act.

The proposed ban is long overdue for a chemical that is highly toxic and produced in very high volumes (255 million pounds annually). TCE is classified as a known human carcinogen by numerous authoritative bodies, including the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Many studies of TCE also reveal additional health impacts including but not limited to immune toxicity, developmental toxicity (e.g., fetal cardiac defects), and neurotoxicity (e.g., Parkinson’s disease).

Read the rest here.

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Madison-Kipp Clean Air Act violations: MEJO response to Kipp CEO

Madison-Kipp Clean Air Act violations: MEJO response to Kipp CEO

Madison-Kipp Corp President/CEO Tony Koblinski responded to our post regarding the EPA consent decree for his company’s Clean Air Act violations. Here is our response:

Dear Mr. Koblinski: We offer the following responses to your comments in hopes of providing some clarity as to why we are dissatisfied with the resolution of the EPA’s Notice of Violation (NOV) to Madison-Kipp Corp.

Koblinski: “This NOV is not a new matter.  It was issued to us September 12, 2012.”  

MEJO Response: Right—these violations are not new. They go back many years. For more on Kipp’s air pollution issues since 1990, and the community’s struggle to address them, see here and here.

The EPA violations occurred from 2007 (and before) through at least 2013. Kipp’s lawyers negotiated with EPA for 2.5 years after the initial violation was sent to them on Sept. 12, 2012.

In 2008, a DNR air pollution compliance engineer notified Kipp that they were using the wrong emissions factors, underestimating the stack discharges and violating their permit. However, after this engineer passed away and another one was assigned, the DNR continued to allow Kipp to use the wrong emissions factors for years, even after the 2012 NOV from EPA was issued. In 2013, DNR found Kipp in full compliance with air regulations, even while the company was still using the wrong emissions factors. DNR South Central Air Management Supervisor Tom Roushar explained in fall 2013 (about a year after the EPA NOV was issued) that it was acceptable that Kipp continued to use the 2001 emissions factors through 2013 even though their permit specified that they should use the higher 2007 emissions factors. He felt that EPA’s allegations were unsubstantiated (though oddly, he claimed not to have seen the NOV).

Koblinski: “It does not allege that we violated our emissions limits, but rather that we did not have adequate controls on our data recording, emissions factors, record keeping, calibration and plant signage.  These are technical issues which we have taken very seriously, but at no time have we exceeded our permitted emissions limits.”  

MEJO Response: Kipp’s estimated levels of air emissions, a key basis on which agencies assess regulatory compliance, are almost entirely based on the company’s own data recording, records keeping, and/or the emission factors they use. Because Kipp kept bad (or no) records on important processes that affect emission levels, and/or used old, incorrect emissions factors, inaccurate emission estimates were reported to the DNR, EPA, and the public for over five years. These are not just minor “administrative” or “technical” issues.

In 2012, Representative Chris Taylor asked the DNR to require Kipp to measure the actual emissions from its stacks. The DNR responded by saying that the extensive recordkeeping required of Kipp was superior to testing emissions. Shortly thereafter, the EPA issued its notice of violation because Kipp was neither conducting its required recordkeeping nor filing correct reports.

Here’s one example of the consequences of using an incorrect emissions factor. Because Kipp used a 2001 emissions factor for chlorine that was 5.8 times lower than its 2007 permit required it to use, chlorine wasn’t reported at all on several air emissions inventories between 2007 and 2012 even though it should have been; incorrect chlorine emissions factors produced inaccurate chlorine emissions estimates that were lower than DNR reporting thresholds. Stack tests done in 2014 as part of the recent NOV showed that Kipp was emitting almost 12 times more chlorine than the 2001 emissions factor they used from 2007 to 2013 predicted they would emit.

Kipp also used 2001 emissions factors for dioxins through at least 2012, even though a more appropriate stack test in 2007 showed dioxin/furan emission levels orders of magnitude above the levels found in 2001 tests. Dioxins (and closely related compounds, called furans) are highly toxic at extremely minute levels—much, much more toxic than chlorine and even the tetrachoroethylene (PCE) Kipp workers dumped onto the ground for years. Even though Kipp stack tests in 2001, 2003, and 2007 showed that Kipp emitted dioxins/furans (and emissions factors increased with each test), none of Kipp’s air inventories have ever reported dioxin/furan emission levels, because using the old emissions factor kept the estimated emission levels under the DNR’s reporting limit. DNR was either oblivious to Kipp’s method of keeping their emission off the public air inventories, or decided that this was acceptable.

Kipp was also found in violation by EPA for not maintaining accurate records of its “Hazardous Air Pollutant” (HAP) emissions, which include a number of other highly toxic chemicals emitted from the factory.

Again, these record-keeping and reporting issues are not minor technical matters. Given the decades of community concerns about dioxins, chlorine, and other hazardous air pollutant emissions from Kipp, and hundreds of complaints to government agencies about strong chemical odors and health effects in the neighborhood, these reporting issues are very problematic, whether or not emission levels exceeded regulatory limits (which studies show, for many of the contaminants emitted Kipp, are too high to adequately protect public health).

Considering the discovery of extremely high levels of contaminants in soil and groundwater at Kipp, is it any surprise that Kipp did not maintain the records needed to show it complied with air pollution control laws? Pollutant levels reported to the DNR for air inventories are the only way citizens have to know what hazardous pollutants Kipp is emitting and at what levels. Kipp knows that and has worked hard to keep these chemicals off air inventories, in part, by using incorrect emissions factors. According to DNR, in 2007/2008, industries lobbied hard to not be required to report emissions below reporting limits (as they had been before). DNR allowed this.

Violations led to increases in actual emissions

Some of Kipp’s violations likely led to actual higher emissions of hazardous air pollutants, not just incorrect emissions estimates. The lubricant used to make aluminum castings is evaporated and partially burned, then exhausted through the roof. Rather than actually capturing and controlling the die lubricant emissions, diluting the die lubricant is the method required by DNR for reducing emissions from the die casting process. One of the EPA violations against Kipp was not diluting the die lubricants as much as required in its permit, resulting in higher VOC and other toxic emissions from die casting.

Other violations included not recording how much they diluted the die lubricant and/or not calibrating their die lubricant mixing equipment correctly—in other words, not following the emissions control method they are required by the permit to follow. These die casting violations are not minor technical issues. The “waxy/oily/burnt” and “metallic” smells neighbors have complained of for years are primarily die casting emissions. According to EPA, the top eight Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) air releases reported from aluminum die casting industries in the U.S. are: aluminum (fume or dust), trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, zinc (fume or dust), copper, hexachloroethane, glycol ethers, and zinc compounds.

Actual emissions from Kipp’s die casting processes have been measured only sporadically and incompletely over the years inside the plant—and not for many years. In 1994, an OSHA inspector measured “oil mists” and “release agents” from die casting processes made up of metals and numerous organic compounds, including: aliphatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic alcohols, acetic acid, organic acids, butyrated hydroxyl toluene, long chain aromatic compounds, fatty acid methyl esters, propylene glycol, hydroxytriethylamine, methyl styrene, 1-2-2—methoxy-1-methyl-ethoxy-1-methylethoxy-2- propanol, and several “unidentified compounds.” The “condensate of mold release agent” contained “50% gray metallic flakes” made up of lead, aluminum, zinc, copper, and iron as well as “small particles, oily or greasy substances” and “brown particles.”

The 2001 “Madison Kipp Corp Exposure Assessment,” done by the Madison Public Health Department listed the following emissions measured above Kipp’s die casting machines in 1998: 1, 1, 1 trichloroethane, benzene, toluene, 1, 2 butadiene, hexane, ethanol, acetone, and several “unknown alkanes or alkenes.” Other reports and studies indicate that aluminum die casting emissions may also contain other very toxic chlorinated compounds such as chlorinated paraffins, PCBs, and dioxins/furans (as far as we know, these compounds have never been tested for in Kipp’s die casting emissions, inside the plant or from the stacks/vents).

During the 2011 inspection by EPA, the inspector noted “hazy air” in the die casting areas in both the Atwood and Fair Oaks facilities. This “haze” is the “oil mist” or die cast emissions, made up of many of the hazardous air pollutants listed above. Workers inhale this mist. It goes out open doors and windows and into roof vents and stacks uncontrolled. That’s why the odors are so strong in the neighborhood on some days. Again, Kipp has never characterized the chemical components of their die cast stack emissions or reported them to the DNR, nor has DNR required them to do so.

Prior to 1995, the “oily mist” from die casting was primarily vented through the doors and windows into adjacent backyards. At that time, after hundreds of neighborhood complaints, Kipp installed many roof vents sending the die casting fumes and the waxy odor further through the neighborhood. Only in 2007 did DNR recognize that Kipp was violating the 1971 air quality standards and required taller stacks rather than simple roof vents, in order to disperse the die casting emissions higher and further away. Current emissions factors for die casting are based on stack tests done in 1994 (that did not assess chemical components of the emissions).

Die casting emissions deposit on Kipp’s side walls and roofs, are washed off during rain/snow, and go into the storm drain system and eventually to the raingarden and/or Starkweather Creek and then Lake Monona. Kipp doesn’t test the chemicals in its stormwater runoff, so we don’t know what contaminants are going into the raingarden and the already highly impaired Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona.

Koblinski: “Under the direction of the EPA we completed new stack testing in May of 2014 and further verified that we operate within a fraction of our allowable emissions levels.”

MEJO Response: In the May 2014 EPA tests, the Atwood aluminum furnace stack emissions were tested for chlorine, hydrochloric acid, PM (particulate matter) and PM-10 (particulate matter ten microns or less in size). The Fair Oaks stacks were tested only for PM/PM-10. The smaller, more toxic components of particulate matter (PM 2.5) were not assessed at stacks from either facility. Dioxins/furans were not tested. Aluminum salts were not tested. No other hazardous pollutants were tested. Die casting emissions were not tested. Therefore, we have no idea whether Kipp was “within a fraction of allowable emission levels” for small particulates and many of the other hazardous air pollutants they emit.

The allowable emissions levels in Kipp’s expired air pollution permit are no basis to judge if the surrounding neighborhood is safe. The discharge limits were established to meet the old air quality standards. All the stacks on Kipp’s roof were designed to comply with the 1971 air standard for PM. The DNR’s own analysis shows current permit limits are not sufficient to comply with modern air quality standards for fine particles or PM2.5. Die casting emissions factors are over two decades old.

The community has asked repeatedly over the years that Kipp more completely characterize die casting emissions and update die casting emissions factors. Given that several of Kipp’s EPA violations had to do with issues that would affect die casting emissions, it is problematic that die casting emissions were not part of the stack testing done for the NOV. We don’t know why, but Kipp’s lawyers likely negotiated them out of the agreement if they were ever on the table for consideration. Further, originally the EPA planned to test dioxins/furans to resolve this Notice of Violation. However, Kipp’s legal team talked them out of doing dioxin/furan tests some time in 2014 (based on MEJO communications with EPA).

Koblinski: “I approached the Goodman Center to see if they had an energy efficiency project that I could help them with and ultimately agreed to pay $80,000 towards their needed chiller upgrade…”  

MEJO Response: We think improving energy efficiency is very important, but this Goodman Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) does nothing to reduce exposures to Kipp’s toxic pollution (as described above) among the children who play at Goodman just feet from the factory. Also, it makes it even more likely that Goodman leaders will not raise any questions about Kipp’s pollution. Madison-Kipp, its wealthy owner Reed Coleman, and/or the several foundations to which Mr. Coleman funnels his wealth, have supported the Goodman Community Center with funding and other types of support since it was located next to Kipp and before that when it was the Atwood Community Center. This is one reason the Goodman Center leaders do not raise concerns about Kipp’s pollution, and dismiss or ridicule those in the community who do raise these concerns. The Goodman SEP is, in effect, more hush money to Goodman. What a boon for Kipp—congratulations!

Meanwhile, the SEPs Kipp agreed to didn’t consider in any way the concerns and suggestions of many people in the Kipp neighborhood for over two decades. Since the 1990s, hundreds of Kipp neighbors have asked for more monitoring, better emissions and noise controls, and a variety of other actions to reduce or eliminate the noise, odors, and toxic pollution from Kipp. In most cases, their concerns have been dismissed or ignored by Kipp (and DNR).  

Koblinski: “The violations indicated in the NOV did not “expose residents and children at the center to harmful pollutants” as they were administrative in nature and we have always operated well within the limits of our permits (in fact less than 4% of our total allowable).

MEJO Response: As outlined above, the violations were much more than just “administrative” and likely did result in higher emissions of some hazardous air pollutants, which continue to be emitted from the factory at unknown levels. Close neighbors of Kipp, including many children, and children playing at the Goodman Center, are among the most exposed and the most vulnerable to these hazardous pollutants released from stacks and vents just feet away from where they live and play.  

Koblinski: “The EPA did not make a “surprise, unannounced visit to our facility,” rather the inaccuracies in our reporting were discovered through the standard annual reporting that we do to the EPA and subsequent information exchanges throughout 2012.”

MEJO Response: This EPA document about the Jan. 12, 2011 inspection of Kipp describes the inspection as “unannounced.”  We don’t think EPA would lie about this.  

Koblinski: Lastly, I would use this opportunity to indicate that we are progressing well on a number of fronts as we take responsibility for the unintended environmental impacts caused over previous decades.  

I won’t list all of the actions taken and completed as those are documented through various reports submitted to the WDNR and posted to their site.  Work still ahead of us includes:

– Some additional soil remediation (removal) work remains to be done in the storm water ‘bio-basin’ (Rain Garden) and adjacent bike path.  

– We will be bringing the Ground water Extraction and Treatment System GETS on line later this month to pump and filter PCE impacted groundwater.

– We are working with WDNR and EPA to resolve remaining PCB issues under our plant.  

We will, of course, continue to regularly monitor and verify our network of wells and probes to ensure there is no risk to public health.  

MEJO Response: Please share with the neighborhood and public the most recent documents about these activities—especially those regarding the continued removal of PCB contamination from the raingarden/bike path and also under the factory. What work remains to be done and why? Please share any available data.

A representative from the Madison/Dane Co Board of Health recently reported to the Madison Committee on the Environment that all the PCBs at Kipp have been remediated. Obviously, this is incorrect. Recent documents about these activities are not posted on the DNR website. People in the neighborhood, and the public officials who serve them, need to know about ongoing remediation of highly toxic soils going on right in the middle of where they live, work, and play (children are playing at a splash pad just feet from these PCB remediations!).

Sincerely,  

Tony Koblinski

President/CEO

Madison-Kipp Corp.

tkoblinski@madison-kipp.com

MEJO Response: Thanks, Mr. Koblinski! Drop us an email any time if you have further questions or comments.

Sincerely,

MEJO

info@mejo.us


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World’s Workers Rise Up in Celebration and Protest on May Day–from Common Dreams.org

World’s Workers Rise Up in Celebration and Protest on May Day–from Common Dreams.org

(May Day Rally in Bangladesh. AP Photo. A.M. Ahad)

Demanding dignity and end of economic status quo that undermines labor rights and fair treatment, world’s labor force celebrates and activates. Read the full Common Dreams article here.

Meanwhile, who is standing up for the health, safety, and dignity of Madison Kipp non-unionized workers?

Workers at Madison-Kipp Corporation

(Kipp workers, photo from madison.com)

In previous posts (see here and here) we posed many questions about what is being done to protect these workers from toxic exposures. These non-unionized workers are, understandably, not likely to “rise up” without union protection to demand a safer workplace, for fear of being fired–as happened to other workers who asked questions about risks in the factory. To date, we have received no answers to our questions from Madison Kipp or any of the government agencies responsible for protecting workers and public health.

Kipp’s HR manager and CEO said independent industrial hygienists hired by their insurance companies have monitored inside the factory and everything is A-OK. If that’s the case, why won’t they share the monitoring data? We’re still waiting….

 

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