Plastics plant to restart fully Poly-Seal factory was struck by illness that killed a worker

Employee safety

October 13, 1998|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Poly-Seal Corp., the Baltimore plastics firm that partially shut down after a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires' disease last week, will restart operations tomorrow, an official said.

"Poly-Seal will be opening Wednesday morning, Oct. 14; the 8 o'clock shift will be the first shift in," said Levi Rabinowitz, a crisis-management expert who has served as the company's spokesman since the problem was disclosed early last week.

Further details were not immediately available.

Representatives of the United Steelworkers union, which represents hourly workers at the plant, could not be reached for comment late yesterday. Last week, however, officials with the xTC union said they thought that the company was doing all it could to quickly remedy the problem.

Four cases of Legionnaires' disease have been confirmed among Poly-Seal workers, including one that caused the death of 51-year-old Joenell Fisher, a quality-assurance inspector at the factory in the Holabird Industrial Park.

Several other workers were afflicted with pneumonia and still others reported respiratory problems. Legionnaires' disease is treated with strong doses of antibiotics.

Because of the Columbus Day holiday yesterday, state health officials were unavailable to say whether any of the pneumonia cases proved to be Legionnaires' disease.

Poly-Seal, which makes plastic bottle caps for beauty products such as shampoo, laid off about half its 500 workers and shut down part of its factory last Tuesday after state health officials said Legionnaires' may have caused Fisher's death and the illnesses among the other workers.

"We could have re-opened [today], but William Herdrich, Poly-Seal's president, decided to take an extra day to give the occupational safety consultants and remediation specialists all the time they needed," said Robert Weilminster, the company's chief financial officer, in a statement. "This cleanup isn't a task you want to repeat. 'Do it right, do it once' has been our motto these past few days."

The company said it had "spared no expense and cut no corners" in what it described as an "intensive" cleanup operation.

Poly-Seal had planned to flush its five water systems with very hot water and high concentrations of chlorine to eradicate the Legionella pneumophila bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease.

The bacteria is fairly common in water supplies, but proliferates only in the optimal environment of stagnant water at temperatures of 95 degrees to 115 degrees. It causes illness in humans when the water is transformed into an aerosol and the droplets are inhaled.

Waterchem, an Aberdeen firm that maintains Poly-Seal's water systems, was to manage the cleanup, the bottle cap manufacturer said last week.

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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