Toxic Legacy

The tide of death and illness is high among former workers at a Northside coatings company.
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Posted April 10, 2013 by ERIC GRIFFEY in News

Based on old company rosters and their own memories, the Morris brothers know of 35 people who worked for Technicoat through the years. Robert Morris stayed in touch with 10 of those; five of them have died, all but one before the age of 60.

Wayne Morris died of stomach cancer in 2001. Courtesy Robert Morris

Wayne Morris died of stomach cancer in 2001. Courtesy Robert Morris

Wayne Morris survived a bout with kidney cancer before succumbing to stomach cancer at age 79. He’s the only Technicoat worker the brothers know of who made it past 60.

The Weekly interviewed all five of the surviving Technicoat workers who could be located, in addition to the Morris brothers, as well as family members of two workers who had died. All but two of the surviving workers are suffering from lingering problems that could be related to chemical exposure. The two not affected each worked at the plant for less than eight months.

The coating company hired impressionable high school students to do the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs.

One of those workers, Frank Miller, died in 2009 at age 50, stricken with so many medical problems that his wife of 29 years thought it remarkable that he held on as long as he did. He suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, a gastro-intestinal leak, and a brain tumor.

Miller started working at the plant when he was a freshman in high school. He moved in with Jana Ann Hyman Packard, the woman he would eventually marry, and her family while he was still in school.

When Miller came home from the plant, Packard said, he would be covered in chemicals that smelled like rotten eggs, and his clothes would be stained.

“My mom would wash his clothes by themselves,” she said. “They would smell, and his pants always had orange stuff on them.”

Packard has since remarried, but she still wonders if her first husband’s long and painful decline had something to do with his time at Technicoat.

Miller was the strong, silent type, she said. He never complained about his job at Technicoat, but he started getting sinus infections while there, and later in life he developed a cough that would be a harbinger of 12 years of illness. He spent the last years of his life in hospitals and ultimately a hospice. Packard does not believe he ever had a toxicology screening.

Frank Blaha Jr.’s father also worked at Technicoat and died of leukemia in 1997. Like Miller and Morris, Blaha’s father wasn’t the type to complain. He was hardworking and closed-lipped, his son said.

His family had no history of cancer or leukemia until Frank Sr. was diagnosed. Ironically, the younger Blaha is now a safety expert for Bell Helicopter.

Like many kids, he occasionally went to work with his father and witnessed the conditions in which his father worked. He doesn’t know if conditions at Technicoat led to his father’s illnesses but thinks it’s possible.

“I wouldn’t doubt it at all,” he said. “Those chemicals, especially in places where they coat things, are toxic.

“Dad was just a hard worker,” he said. “Whatever he needed to do, whatever the job required, he would do it.”

Don Chandler, who also started working at the plant when he was in high school, witnessed the company’s illegal dumping but didn’t see anything wrong with it at the time.

“I was just a young kid, and I’d do whatever they asked me to do,” he said. “But I saw them. They would empty tanks right down into the sewer.”

Though he’s healthy now, he had a kidney removed when he was just 23. He wouldn’t speculate as to whether or not his exposure to chemicals caused his ailment. But he acknowledged that his job was dangerous.

“There was some nasty stuff up there,” he said. “They didn’t have any safety precautions. We’d just dip [a part] in one [chemical], dip in another and another.”

Doug McGinnis worked at the plant for only a few months, but he was close friends with Miller and another employee, David Calvert, who died of liver failure in his early 50s.

“I don’t remember any kind of safety meeting or any kind of OSHA thing,” McGinnis said. “We weren’t briefed on any kind of safety precaution. … We just did the job, and that was it.”

Chandler said he wouldn’t dream of allowing his own children to work in such an environment.

“Oh, God, no,” he said. “I was just a stupid kid back then.”

Packard said the health and safety of young workers got little attention from management.

Technicoat “didn’t really care,” she said.

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Robert and Gary Morris have filed claims with the Texas Workers Compensation Board. All they want from their former employer, both said, is help in paying for medical care.

As of now, both cases remain unresolved. Robert said that his claim is still active, but he hasn’t heard from the Workman’s Compensation Board (part of the state insurance agency) in almost two years.

No one from Aero-Marine returned phone calls from the Weekly. Robert said the company won’t call him back either.

The Morris brothers said they haven’t been able to find an attorney to take their case because their chemical exposure happened more than 30 years ago.

Because Gary can no longer work, he can afford neither health insurance nor to pay for doctors on his own.

Aero-Marine, which puts coating on air conditioning coils, has had run-ins of its own with federal and state environmental agencies. In the last three years, according to the EPA’s website, the company has been in violation of federal hazardous waste disposal standards for 12 consecutive quarters.

Robert Morris said he wouldn’t be surprised if further work on the Trinity River Vision project unearths more chemical horrors.

In the meantime, he’s searching for any means to pay for the medical care he and his brother need. “Those toxicologists aren’t cheap,” he said.


9 Comments


  1.  
    Robert Morris

    Eric,
    I would like to say, Thank you from my father and mother. I would also like to say thank you from my brothers Joe and Gary. And most of all I would like to say thank you! I hope all who reads this story of Fort Worth’s past and still present hazardous chemical site. I understand that the EPA states the site is safe. But there are us the victims of the negligence of a company whose only concern was their prosperity.

    Robert Morris




  2.  

    I was a supervisor for around five years at southern anodizing at the time the Morris’s worked there.
    I was young and uneducated as we’re many of the people we hired. I knew Felton Havins jr personally after working for him at meachum field.
    I went to work for Felton jr. And became close to Felton sr.
    It was my job to take the work in at the door, supervise processing and ship.
    As time went by I started becoming ill. I would get sores in my nose, my mouth. I would have days when I felt as if it was a struggle to even get off the forklift. Anxiety and depression started setting in.
    I did not realize it was my place of employment at the time.
    Dr. Hieberto Pena on north main was my doctor and he told me that place was going to make me sick. He was wrong it already had.
    After a year at general dynamics I woke up one morning and started crying. I mean boo hooing and bawling. I had never cried in my life till that morning and remember it well. It was 1981 and I have been fight depression tooth and nail ever since. I had to quit working as soon as I made a pension, only because Lockheed is a great company that understood.

    I personally supervised the disposing of chemical waste at la grave field.

    I was told to get rid of the five hundred barrels of dirt that lined the fence in the back of the facility. I did not know what it was at the time. After learning I started making calls in the 1980′s and got no where. It seemed as if no one wanted to know. I called OSHA I called various federal agency’s only to be told I would most likely go to prison if I persisted. I gave up.
    After learning of the resurrection of Lagrave field I called a few more places.
    Finally I started digging into EPA websites after the advent of the Internet.
    I found records of mr Havins have been fined and let off light.
    The city of Fort Worth just swept all this under the rug, put a cap on the top round and started taking admission fees.
    I do not go to Lagrave field.
    I have a lot of story to tell about this place.
    The triclorethlene, I hated running that tank. For days afterward it tasted as if you had ingested sugar in your lungs to the point it would make your throat sore.
    Methel ethel keystones, MEK, we would use 150 gallons in a shallow tank mix in 100 gallons of phenolic coating, and dip heat exchange coils in the mixture. We had a circus tent canvass that I hung up,in front of the buildings gas heater, to accelerate drying.
    It gotta to the point that every time we processed a batch my kidneys would start hurting.
    The cyanide from the cadmium plating would wake you up at night with burning under the finger nails.
    This goes on and on.
    I was so glad to find this artical. I haven’t spoke to seen the Morrises since those days so many years ago and want them to know I am on Facebook.
    Mike Shelton.




    •  
      Robert Morris

      Mike,
      I would like to say thank you for stepping up, and testifying about your time at Technicoat. Also to all of the other people that put in comments. This really means a lot. It will be a monumental task to get this rendered into a case. Have any one of you thought of contacting Erin Brockovich, she is a consumer advocate. Check her out on her website. The more we get involved the better we are as a team.




  3.  
    Theresa

    This is such a sad commentary about corporate/government collusion and the lack of empathy for anyone or anything besides profit.
    Despite environmental and safety regulations, these men toiled without sufficient safety gear to prevent or even reduce exposure to deadly toxins. It is sickening to hear industry now cry out for less regulation!
    I hope the victims of that work environment and the future victims of the existing site have some opportunity to secure compensation from the profiteers of this hell they created. I hope the clean-up no longer falls on the taxpayer, as it has.




  4.  
    Bill Parker

    Very sad this happened to hard working people. :-(




  5.  
    jm gregg

    I think the people who owned this company should be held responsible for the pain and suffering of these workers. Shame on the city of Fort Worth for once again ignoring the citizens who are not members of the wealthy elite.




  6.  
    Denise Maben

    I worked in Department 31 for 10 years at General Dynamics/Lockheed where we used MEK, lead tape, and various other chemicals every day. Then I was in Department 39, Etch and Plating, for 5 years at General Dynamics/Lockheed. After getting laid off in 1993 I went to Bell Helicopter Textron, Plant 5, in Grand Prairie. At Bell I worked as a “Machined Parts Precision Finisher A” and an “A” Plater in Plating. At Bell we were dealing with MEK, Tolulene, Caustic Soda Acid Flake, Black Magic, Powdered Blue Coat Epoxy, Cadmium, Sodium Hydroxide, Anodize, Lube Lock, Black Oxide, Silver Plate, Dow finish, Chem Film,
    Cromate. I now have C.O.P.D., Crohn’s, Crohn’s Colitis, and damaged lungs. I know it was due to all the chemical exposure and that is what my doctors believe as well. I was also involved in Safety Training and did my best to protect myself. However, we were not made aware of Safety practices until the late 80′s after we had all been exposed for several years. Our generation made sure they stopped using MEK in most open areas, and we are the reasons they began the ISO 9000 series Safety Classes, and Respirator Classes. We were also given Safety Classes at our I.A.M.&A.W. District 776 Union Hall. OSHA and the EPA, amoung others, were called in and General Dynamics & Lockheed were fined many times. They were also called in at Bell Helicopter and they were also fined many times. Many of the ones I worked with at General Dynamics/ Lockheed, and also Bell Helicopter, have passed away from various cancers and illnesses related to the exposure. The ones of us still alive, most of us have health problems related to the exposure as well. This is a very serious issue. I was glad to see this article posted on here.




  7.  
    Becky Essner

    I can confirm Mike Shelton’s comments. I too was a TechniCoat employee. Looking back, I see how badly the folks that worked for Felton Sr were treated. I personally saw how he instructed those young men to physically, get down into those de-greaser tanks. One in particular (Wayne Bradberry) died from cancer at a very young age.

    My sister, also worked for TechnCoat. She developed a cancerous brain tumor which took her life. My sister in law, who worked there has cancer now, our family prays she can be treated successfully. My brother, also worked for TechnoCoat and now has severe liver and adrenal disease.

    These facts are just in my immediate circle. It seems like there should be an investigation, even at this late date.

    Becky Essner

    This simply should not have happened.




    •  
      robert morris

      Becky,
      Who was your sister? Did I work with her? I remember a Janice Humphries, a Donna West, Diane Miley, and Martha Flores. Has any one else filed for workers compensation?





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