Resources for Patients and their Families

Chipman Chemical

Chipman Chemical was a plant in northwest Portland, Oregon, that produced herbicides, pesticides and 2.4.5-T, an ingredient in Agent Orange. It was accused of engaging in poor waste management systems that have endangered the local area.

Key Facts

State and federal records indicate that Chipman Chemical (as well as its successor, Rhone-Poulenc) routinely dumped wastes from their production processes into a ditch that leads to Doane Lake. The wastes then effectively entered the Willamette River. The former production site is still home to contaminated ground water. Tests show that ground water moving toward the river contains high levels of dioxin (a byproduct of 2.4.5-T production). One reading indicated dioxin levels that were 56,000 times higher than federal standards for drinking water.

Site History

Former employees of Chipman Chemical report that working conditions were generally unhealthy and that odors were intense. Key dates in the company's spotty history include the following:

  • 1970-1974: Fifty-one documented herbicide and solvent spills
  • 1960s: Tank overflows and equipment wash-downs are diverted direction to Doane Lake; area ditches regularly "run red" from dye used in mercury products
  • 1966: The site's pollution is a key issue in the 1966 gubernatorial race; site is excoriated for releasing phenols into the river
  • 1980: Research team tells the company that tars produced as waste contain dioxin
  • 1981: Company officials allegedly lead EPA inspectors away from dioxin prior to a 1981 site inspection by claiming trade secrets
  • 1991: Lawsuit takes more than 20 companies to task (including Chipman Chemical) for contaminating Doane Lake

Dioxin and People

The EPA and WHO have both confirmed that dioxin is a known human carcinogen. The substance was officially updated to this "known carcinogen" status in 2001. In particular, a 2002 study linked dioxin to breast cancer.

Asbestos in Chemical Plants

In the majority of the 20th century, various forms of asbestos were used as an insulator in cases where fire or excessive heat was a danger. Facilities like Chipman Chemical, therefore, were generally built using materials containing asbestos. Another property of various kinds of the fibrous mineral is that they are unaffected by reactive chemicals. Because of this, asbestos was used in safety garments, bench and counter tops and coating materials. And while the asbestos worked well in preventing fire damage and in protecting life and property from excessive temperatures, the mineral also exposed those same people to significant health risks.

For the most part, amosite was the type of asbestos utilized. When mixed with chrysotile, which is resistant to heat and bases but not as impervious to acidic compounds, the amphibole amosite creates materials that are especially good at protecting against corrosive substances. Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in laboratories and refineries across the US, amosite was finally disallowed in building materials in the 1970s.

Asbestos transite could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and laminated just as cement could. This form of asbestos did not offer a health hazard as long as it stayed solid. Tiny fibers of asbestos enter into the atmosphere, however, as transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) grows older and becomes prone to crumbling. In other words, such asbestos is friable, which is defined as easily crushed. The insulation lining of industrial kilns also almost always were fabricated with friable asbestos.

Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem

Friable asbestos is a problem since in this form the particles can be readily released into the environment. Inhaling asbestos fibers can lead to diseases like asbestosis or cancer. In addition, inhaling asbestos is known to be the primary cause of pleural mesothelioma, a rare and all too often lethal disease affecting the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. If those particles of asbestos in the air land on food or in beverages and are then ingested, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can occur, although they are less common than pleural mesothelioma.

During the past few decades medical researchers have discovered much information concerning the risks associated with asbestos exposure; therefore there are stringent laws regulating its use. In the late 1950s to 1980s when Chipman Chemical was in operation, however, the use of asbestos was more commonplace. And in too many instances workers used materials containing asbestos when they did not have the protection of protective equipment.

Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger

Asbestos cancer, as opposed to most work-related injuries, which are readily observed and known about soon after the incident, may take many, many years to manifest. It can also be challenging to diagnose asbestos-related disorders since the symptoms can be mistaken for the symptoms of other, less serious disorders. Therefore, it is very important for everyone that worked at or resided near places like Chipman Chemical to inform their physicians about the possibility of asbestos exposure. New therapies for mesothelioma cancer are being discovered, and early detection gives the patient and his or her doctor the best chance to combat the previously always-fatal disease.



ACS Publications - Industry News - Dioxin

Oregon Life - It wasn't a healthy place to work

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

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