Class Action Dilemmas: Pursuing Public Goals for Private Gain

By Deborah R. Hensler; Nicholas M. Pace et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter Twelve TOXIC CHEMICAL FACTORY LITIGATION: 1 ATKINS v. HARCROS 2

PROLOGUE

In 1931, the Thompson-Hayward Chemical Company purchased one acre of property in Gert Town, a neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, and began building a chemical factory. 3 At that time, Thompson-Hayward was a Missouri- based company that manufactured pesticides, and the residents of Gert Town were predominantly white, working-class families. 4 The factory opened for production in 1941. 5 At first, it only produced dry pesticides and all manufacturing took place indoors. But by the end of the 1940s, Thompson-Hayward was mixing wet pesticides in large outdoor vats; by the late 1950s, the company was also mixing wet and dry herbicides outdoors. 6 This level of production continued for 20 more years. According to local residents, the outdoor kettles occasionally overflowed and the buildings emitted dust and fumes. 7

In 1961, the factory and the name Thompson-Hayward were sold to T H Agriculture and Nutrition Company, Inc. ( THAN), a subsidiary of the Netherlands- based North American Philips Corporation (Philips). 8 In 1975, activity at the factory began to slow. Production of wet pesticides and wet herbicides ceased, and for two years the factory produced only dry products. 9 Manufacture of dry products ended in 1977, and the building was used solely as a warehouse for the remainder of the decade. In 1981, the factory and the name ThompsonHayward were sold to Harcros Chemicals, Inc.10 Harcros first used the building to store industrial chemicals, dry-cleaning supplies, and pest-control supplies. Finally, the facility was closed entirely in 1986.

The factory housed a large variety of chemicals over the five decades it was operative, including aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane, and DDT; the herbicide 2,4,5,-T (the main constituent of Agent Orange, which contains dioxin); the fungicide pentachlorophenal, which contains dioxin; and the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene. 11 Even after production ceased, there were perchloroethylene and pesticide spills, and generally lax containment of toxins. 12 Table 12.1 illustrates the factory's complicated history.

-319-

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