BUILDING 6: The Tragedy at Bridesburg by Willard S. & Stephen D. Solomon Randall
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BUILDING 6: The Tragedy at Bridesburg

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Asbestos, mercury, vinyl chloride, arsenic--the list of chemical substances killing industrial workers grows longer. Randall and Solomon, two' award-winning investigative journalists, have ferreted out the deadly story of bi-chloromethyl ether (BCME) and its byproduct, chloromethyl ether (CME), two substances used in the manufacture of synthetic ion exchange resins at Philadelphia's Rohm and Haas chemical works, pioneer developers of Plexiglass and acrylic. Early in the 1960s, the men who mixed the huge vats of chemicals in Building 6--vats which emitted fumes that made workers choke and run from the plant--began to die of lung cancer. By 1962 officials at the company had reason to suspect that ""something was terribly wrong."" As the deaths mounted, the company cautiously undertook preliminary studies. When the alarming findings began to come in that rats and mice were dying en masse, the company started to scoff at ""animal studies"" and blamed cigarette smoking. All this went on, as the authors make only too plain, behind a facade of benign cooperation and concern. But it took no less than ten years for the switch-over to closed vats and a remote control system; by this time an eminent New York University researcher had concluded that BCME was ""the most potent carcinogenic known to man."" This was never made clear to the workers. A scrupulously thorough piece of research, the book follows the story to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), created in 1970 to set and enforce safety standards, and the Nixon-Stans ""responsiveness policy""--responsiveness to industrialists lobbying for ""soft"" regulation. Throughout the disputations, legislative and scientific, the workers at Rohm and Haas kept dying; the pallbearer for one victim would himself sicken a few months later. The nature of the material makes for onerous reading. Onerous, but imperative to anyone unfamiliar with the lax regulation of the chemical industry and its perfunctory disregard for workers' lives.

Pub Date: June 28th, 1977
Publisher: Little, Brown