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Pollution still threatens workers’ health at Endicott IBM plant

An IBM manufacturing plant in the Southern Tier of Upstate New York has long drawn scrutiny due to pollution concerns. For decades, the plant seeped industrial solvents into the ground, affecting nearby residents and workers alike.

A recent article in the Poughkeepsie Journal reports that pollution remains a problem for more than 1,500 employees who still work at the plant. A decades-long cleanup effort has removed more than 70,000 gallons of toxic chemicals from the ground, alleviating the exposure of residential neighborhoods. However, officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation report that an underground pool of concentrated solvents remains below the plant site.

The pool contains up to a million gallons of toxic chemicals and covers approximately eight village blocks, according to attorneys for the neighborhood residents. State officials have not yet announced a plan or timetable for removing the chemicals. Because of the vast infrastructure of underground pipelines, tunnels and storage tanks, any removal plan would be fraught with challenges.

One of the toxins at issue – trichloroethylene (TCE) – has been linked with high mortality rates among IBM workers exposed to the chemical during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In high concentrations, TCE can cause cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

Tests performed at the IBM plant in 2005 uncovered levels more than three times the safe exposure limit in many of the plant’s buildings. They also detected concentrations of more than 2,000 times the safe amount in soil around the plant.

Many occupational illnesses are linked with exposure to toxins. The IBM plant is just one example of a significant number of workplaces across the state where workers face toxic exposure risks. While safety regulations and governmental oversight play a key role in managing that risk, workers still sometimes suffer the consequences of irresponsibility on the part of their employers. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with an occupational disease, it’s important to seek legal help from a qualified lawyer.

Source: Poughkeepsie Journal, “IBM toxic pool defies cleanup,” Tom Wilber (April 11, 2015).

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