Cox Creek Agrees To Protect Workers From Lead Fumes

Union Wins Blowers For Plant, Blood Tests

February 28, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

Cox Creek Refining Co. in northern Anne Arundel County has 45 days to start protecting its workers from toxic lead dust and fumes, an official of the employees union said yesterday.

Under an agreement reached Tuesday by the copper refinery and the union, the company must ventilate the plant, give protective uniforms to workers in hazardousareas and install air blowers to rid workers of dust, said Willie Long, president of United Electrical Workers Local 125.

The state has cited the Fort Smallwood and Kembo roads plant for violating workplace safety laws -- such as exposing workers to airborne lead levels almost 10 times higher than federal standards allow --and has proposed $5,500 in fines.

The union, which represents theplant's 200 workers, has been negotiating with Cox Creek for three weeks.

"We hammered hard and heavy to get what we got out of it," Long said. "We came off with a pretty fair agreement."

Within 45 days, the company must provide protective uniforms for workers in the anode casting department, open a laundry and install air blowers to rid employees of dust when they leave for breaks, Long said.

The company has agreed to ventilate lunchrooms within six months.

It alsowill offer blood tests to monitor lead levels every month and physicals every six months. Workers also will be trained to use protective masks, he said. The company and union have formed a safety committee through which officials will check air quality, he said.

Long did not know how much the measures will cost the company.

Cox Creek officials refused to discuss the agreement.

"We have a policy of notcommenting on labor-relation matters," Scott Armentrout, vice president for administration, said.

The Maryland Occupational Safety andHealth office issued citations last October, including charges that Cox Creek failed to train workers properly and protect them from suchhazardous chemicals as lead, arsenic and sulfuric acid.

The company never tested workers in danger of exposure to high levels of lead,the state also charged.

In one case, the citations said, a boileroperator was exposed to 483 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air, well above federal guidelines permitting dust levels no higher than 50 micrograms per cubic meter in an eight-hour shift.

The company has asked for a hearing on the charges.

Adults who inhale or swallow lead dust or fumes can suffer anemia and damage to the kidneys or the nervous system. Lead poisoning also can lead to high blood pressure, sterility and birth defects. Lead is a byproduct of copper refining.

Company medical tests since last March showed 12 workers with elevated levels of lead in their blood, Long said. Exposure to leadsent one worker to the hospital, where he remains, he said.

In a separate matter, Cox Creek has been fined $13,000 by the state Department of the Environment for air pollution violations. The company hasasked for an administrative hearing on those charges, but no date has been set, said Michael Sullivan, department spokesman.

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