Naphthalene. Here’s a word that’s not only hard to spell but probably hard to identify as well. However, for the people of Follansbee, West Virginia, it’s a word that conjures up plenty of fear, frustration, and probably a good amount of disgust and anger as well.
Naphthalene is an organic compound used in the production of phthalic anhydride as well as an easier-to-identify item – mothballs. Short term exposure to this compound can cause damage to the liver, hemolytic anemia, and various types of neurological damage.
Long term exposure produces even more frightening problems including all of the above plus severe damage to the retina and possible cataracts.
In Follansbee, West Virginia, they know all about naphthalene. At the Koppers Inc. plant there, workers take crude oil oven tars and convert them to naphthalene as well as to chemical oil, middle distillate oils, refined tars, and coal tar pitch.
Big deal, you might think. These are all things we need. Tars to pave roads. Naphthalene for resins, insecticides, dyes, and tanning agents. Somebody has to produce the stuff, right?
Right. But the dangers associated with working with these compounds have long effected the individuals who’ve worked at Koppers’ Follansbee plant as well as the individuals who live or have lived near the plant, which is also close to another dangerous worksite, the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation.
When Koppers opened in 1914, their site along the Ohio River was pristine. However, before long, workers and local residents became concerned about pollution. It didn’t take long for them to figure out that the air inside the plant was often filled with toxins and the water outside was no longer pure.
Naphthalene, Asbestos, and Your Health
The EPA has, over the years, cited Koppers Follansbee for violations because the northern portion of its 33-acre facility was highly contaminated with coal tar constituents in soil and groundwater, which had migrated into bedrock.
The status of the nearby Ohio River has also been of special concern over the years, with potential contamination coming from naphthalene, phenol, volatile organics (benzine, xylene, toluene, ethybenzene, trichloroethene and trichlorobenzene), polycyclic aromatics, cyanide, and metals, notes the EPA.
In addition, because of the processes that went on inside this plant, many of which involved the use of high-temperature equipment, asbestos was also widely used at Koppers Follansbee. Asbestos was thought to be the best insulating material available and was used in many items to protect employees from fires or burns.
Unfortunately, however, asbestos had its dark side, too. When workers inhaled asbestos fibers – which they had no reason to believe were dangerous – the dust would, in many cases, become lodged in their lungs. As a result, some would develop scarring and pleural plaques while others would eventually be diagnosed with asbestosis or even mesothelioma cancer.
Just as with the Follansbee naphthalene production, Koppers higher-ups tried to convince employees that asbestos was safe or, in most cases, didn’t call attention to its use at all. Hence, workers in Follansbee were exposed to all sorts of toxins and were rarely – if at all – supplied with items that would protect them from inhalation. This included masks or respirators.
Now, decades later, Koppers Follansbee workers who were employed through much of the 20th century are suffering the results of inhaling both naphthalene and asbestos as well as other chemicals and compounds. Some are already sick. Others know it’s coming.
If you worked at Koppers Follansbee and are suffering from mesothelioma or some other work-related disease, it’s time to hold responsible those who are to blame for your illness. Contact a West Virginia mesothelioma lawyer to learn more about your legal options.
Have questions? Call Lee, (855) 397-6640