April 9, 2002 #153
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective
EDITOR\PUBLISHER: A.V. Krebs
ADDRESS: PO. Box 2201, Everett, Washjington 98203-0201
WEB SITE: http://www.ea1.com/CARP/
TO RECEIVE: Name and e-mail address
"CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER" INTERVIEW:
FIRED, INJURED ADM CHEMICAL ENGINEER CHARGES
COMPANY REPEATEDLY VIOLATED EPA STANDARDS
Hector Cruz is a chemical engineer who worked for four years at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in Decatur, Illinois. He was fired from the facility in 1998 after he reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) excessive releases of hexane into the atmosphere. He moved on to get another job in West Virginia with another multinational corporation.
Earlier this year, Becky Ellis, a mom who lives in suburban Decatur, called Cruz. Ellis is investigating the causes of the death of her 22-year old son, Dan Ellis. Dan Ellis died on February 15, 1999 from a rare form of lung cancer that spread to the brain. The doctors first question to Ellis was --- where do you live?
Becky Ellis began investigating possible environmental causes, and went to the local office of the Environmental Protection Agency, where she stumbled across Cruz's complaints to the EPA about ADM's discharges.
(ADM spokesperson Carla Miller did not return repeated calls to her Decatur office seeking comment on Cruz's allegations.)
[The Corporate Crime Reporter] interviewed Cruz on March 25, 2002.
CCR: You work for a large multinational corporation out of Martinsburg, West Virginia. How long have you been working there?
CRUZ: One year.
CCR: Tell us about your education.
CRUZ: I received a degree in chemical engineering in 1994 from the Colorado School of Mines. I earned a minor in environmental engineering. And I was a McBride Honors Student with a minor in public affairs.
CCR: What is the Colorado School of Mines?
CRUZ: It is one of the top engineering schools in the country.
CCR: What were you doing prior to going to the Colorado School of Mines?
CRUZ: I worked in the water treatment industry. I did that for over ten years. When I decided to not own my own business anymore, I couldn't find a job, because I had no education. So, I decided to go back to school.
CCR: What was your first job out of school?
CRUZ: Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, Illinois.
CCR: How did you get that job?
CRUZ: They came to my school and recruited me.
CCR: For what position?
CRUZ: They called us all production assistants. All of us engineers had the
same title --- production assistants.
CCR: What facility were you at?
CRUZ: I was at the Decatur West plant. That's where all of the new construction was going on --- the new vitamin E plant, the lecithin plant. They were also processing vegetable oil. We extracted oil from corn germ and from soy beans.
CCR: You were making vegetable oils. Who would buy this?
CRUZ: Different clients would put in orders for a specific chemical makeup of margarine, vegetable oil, a lard type of thick oil. Wholesalers would buy it. We would sell big vats of oil that would go to fried chicken outlets, hospitals, fast food burger chains. We'd also send corn oils to Frito Lay. These were just large wholesale purchasers.
CCR: What did they pay you as salary?
CRUZ: Something like $44,000 a year. We also had health insurance.
CCR: What was your work when you went there?
CRUZ: I started working in the plant, learning how the processes all worked, what they did there. They assigned me to investigate the amount of hexane they were using and where it was going.
CCR: What is hexane?
CRUZ: Hexane is a light hydrocarbon. It comes from the petroleum industry.
CCR: What is it used for?
CRUZ: ADM used it to extract oil from corn germ and soybeans.
CCR: The soybeans and corn kernels come in.
CRUZ: It's not the kernel --- it's corn germ. The inner portion of the corn kernel is the germ. The outer portion is sugar. And they take that off and make corn syrup out of it.
CCR: What do they do with the germ?
CRUZ: They send it over to the West plant. And they would crush it and mill it. And then we would soak it in hexane. And the hexane would pull the oil out of the germ, dissolve it into the hexane. And then they would fry the germ, and take all the rest of the hexane out and process that out for feed. And then all of the hexane with the oil in it would get distilled.
CCR: Let's go back. They take the corn germ and crush it and mill it.
CRUZ: Yes. And they get some oil out of it that way.
CCR: But to get the rest of the oil, they mix it with hexane. Is hexane a liquid?
CRUZ: Yes. It is a liquid. They wash it in hexane.
CCR: That combination of hexane and ground up corn germ becomes ---
CRUZ: It stays as corn germ and hexane. All the oil that's in the corn germ wants to get extracted out of the corn germ and goes into the hexane.
CCR: The oil goes from the corn germ into the hexane. And you have what's left of the corn germ, and the hexane and oil mixture.
CCR: What happens to the hexane and oil mixture?
CRUZ: They call that a miscella. That miscella goes to a distillation process where they heat it up. The hexane is much lighter. It has a lower boiling point. So, they vaporize it. And the hexane will boil off before the oil. So, they just keep heating up this hexane, until it all turns to a gas, comes off, goes through condensers, and comes back as just hexane. The oil stays behind because it has a much higher boiling point. It doesn't vaporize. And you end up with just oil.
CCR: Where does the hexane go?
CRUZ: The hexane goes through condensers --- which are just a vessel that has cold water running through tubes on one side. The hexane vapor lands on the tubes and it condenses, like water condenses on the outside of a glass of ice water.
CCR: They can reuse the hexane?
CRUZ: Yes. They recycle it.
CCR: So, you are not using much hexane, because you are reusing it.
CRUZ: Well, you can't get all of it out of the meal. You try and take that meal. You heat it up. You fry it. Put hot steam on it. You get as much hexane out of it as you can. But there is still some hexane left that goes out in the meal. It ends up just volatizing as the meal dries over time.
CCR: What is that corn meal used for?
CRUZ: I'm not entirely sure.
CCR: What was your job at this facility when you first got there?
CRUZ: To figure out where this hexane was going to. We were using quite a bit of it. Title Five was just changed.
CCR: Title Five of the Clean Air Act?
CRUZ: Yes. We had to prove how much hexane we were losing and where it was going.
CCR: The government said you can only release so much into the environment.
CCR: That so much had been determined. And ADM wanted to know whether they were in compliance.
CRUZ: Right. I arrived at ADM in 1994 and started working on this in 1995.
CCR: What did you find out about the hexane?
CRUZ: I found out a lot of things. I found out we were sending hexane out in the meal, waste water and water vapor. I found out we were losing a lot of hexane around the plant just as fugitive emissions, coming out of cracks and things like that. And then I found out that we were sending out quite a bit of it into the atmosphere, through our final vent.
CCR: You reported that to your superiors.
CRUZ: We had a so-called independent lab doing the testing. But as it turned out, this guy used to work for ADM doing all of ADM's testing. He ended up going out and starting his own company at ADM's request. And he ended up doing the testing for ADM. And the first report that came to me was just completely wrong. The emissions that he showed were so low, it was just impossible. I knew how much hexane we were bringing in, because I got the log book and recorded how much hexane was being delivered in the trucks to the plant. I knew what we were paying for and what was being delivered. What he was reporting --- it just couldn't be true.
CCR: You knew what was coming in and you knew how much hexane was left at the end of the process, and you just subtracted and got the amount of hexane that was lost.
CRUZ: Right. And this third party tester found much lower amounts that were left.
CCR: If you were doing the testing, why did they bring in a third party tester?
CRUZ: I didn't do that actual emissions testing of the hexane going out. I knew what it was. But I didn't actually stick the instruments into the air flow and test to see how much was actually being sent out into the atmosphere. Had I done that, it wouldn't count anyway. I was an employee of the company. I couldn't report it.
CCR: Wait a second. What does that mean?
CRUZ: I was an employee of the company and I could have lied.
CCR: So, they bring in a third-party tester for an independent read. And he says x amount of hexane is being released. You say ---
CRUZ: I knew how much we were recovering. I knew how much we were losing in the water. I knew how much we were losing in the meal. I knew how much we were buying. The only other place we were losing it was through the cracks, water vapor, or through the final vent. And to me it meant that those emissions were being released into the air. It couldn't have been that little of an amount.
CCR: Was there a significant discrepancy between what you found and what the third party tester found?
CRUZ: Yes. It was enough that I knew either this guy didn't know what he was doing, or two, that he turned in those numbers on purpose and I was supposed to say --- okay, everything is okay.
CCR: When did you get those numbers?
CRUZ: In 1996 or 1997.
CCR: When you got these numbers of the third party tester, what did you do?
CRUZ: I told my boss that this wasn't right. It wasn't accurate and there was no way I was going to go along with these numbers. We had to run the tests again. The guy had to do it right this time. And I was going to watch him and make sure he did it right and make sure these numbers were accurate. And my boss said --- he has done this before, he gave me some copies of numbers that he did back in 1994. And they looked like the ones he tried to give me in 1996 or 1997. They were both low. And I said --- no, they can't be right. I showed him my data, my calculations. I laid it out on the table for him. And he had to agree that they couldn't be right.
CCR: So, your boss agreed with you?
CRUZ: Yes. And they bring in the same tester. And the new tests came out the
way they were supposed to come out. They were extremely high, as were my
numbers. That pretty much verified my testing and my analysis --- that we were
pumping too much hexane out into the atmosphere. We had a permit and we couldn't
exceed the limits in the permit. And we were exceeding the permit. We also
determined that we were exceeding the
particulate levels for the plant. The particulate level was so high it would build upon cars that were parked there at the plant and it caused problems with people's breathing.
CCR: What happened?
CRUZ: Nothing. We didn't do anything to correct it.
CCR: What would have been necessary to correct it?
CRUZ: New equipment. A couple more condensers at the end to make the process that much more effective. We also needed new bag houses for the particulates, filters.
CCR: Did you recommend that?
CCR: How much would that have cost?
CRUZ: I don't remember, but whatever it was, it wouldn't pay for itself, so we didn't do it.
CCR: How could it have paid for itself?
CRUZ: If we could have reclaimed enough hexane over a period of time, it might have paid for itself.
CCR: Nothing was done. What did you do?
CRUZ: Right after that, ADM put up a new plant, the lecithin de-oiling plant. After it was built, one of the engineers in charge made some changes, and didn't put on some safety equipment that was required, some explosion devices. One of the conveyors ended up exploding. There was a big fire. I was injured. I breathed some smoke.
CCR: What was the extent of the injury?
CRUZ: Some spots on my lungs. After that, we ended up following some guidelines where we would be exposed to more hexane releases in the plant. The doctors theorized that since I had breathed burning hexane in my lungs, and my lungs were sensitive to it, every time I would breath hexane after that, my body would convulse, I would lose clumps of hair, big air bubbles would come out of my skin. I was sick and jerky.
CCR: It was the 1997 explosion and resulting fire that triggered your health problems?
CRUZ: That was part of it. But the other part was that I had been breathing this hexane for the better part of two to three years.
CCR: Hexane has been identified as a neurotoxin. Was there talk among employees about breathing in hexane?
CRUZ: Nobody wanted to say anything, but yes we talked about why everybody there who had worked more than five years was bald. I noticed that every time I would take in a big dose of hexane, my hair would fall out and grow back. We talked about stuff like that. People there had sinus problems, deviated septums, in and out of the doctors office for sinus infections. We talked about the medical problems, people not being able to sleep because they were jerky at night --- they'd wake up jerking and kicking. Nerve problems.
CCR: Was that explosion reported to OSHA?
CRUZ: No, no, no.
CCR: Should it have been reported?
CCR: Who was hurt?
CRUZ: Just me. After that, we changed some things. We started taking particles out of the liquid with filters. We would filter out clay.
CRUZ: Yes, we would dump clay into the process in order to clean up any impurities out of the liquid hexane. We were using the hexane to de-oil the lecithin. We would get the lecithin out. But the lecithin would still have impurities in it. So, we would put this clay --- diatomaceous earth (DE clay) in.
CCR: What is lecithin?
CRUZ: Lecithin is an emulsifier that you can add as a detoxifying agent. It's used for mixing oil and water, like in chocolate milk. It's used in all packaged food products.
CCR: The clay is used to purify the hexane/lecithin mixture.
CRUZ: Right. And they we would filter out the clay. And it would collect in these filter bags. And then we would take the filter bags and throw them in the dumpster with the hexane still in them. We would haul them off to the dump. They would go to the dump and sit there. And in 20 years or so, the hexane would be leaching into the ground water. Who, knows, it might be in the groundwater right now. We shouldn't have been doing this.
CCR: Were there large amounts of hexane?
CRUZ: Yes, it was a major loss point in the hexane cycle. This was after the air study was done. I had done that study for Title Five of the Clean Air Act and I knew that we were going to have to have ongoing reporting, I had to recognize that the clay was a new source of emissions. And I did recognize it and reported it to the head of ADM's loss prevention division. I reported it to my boss and nothing happened. So, I went over him and reported it to the head of loss prevention.
CCR: What happened then?
CRUZ: Loss prevention analyzed the problem and came back and said --- rather than just sending the clay and hexane to the dump in the dumpster --- a car could drive by, flip a cigarette into the dumpster and blow it up --- lets wrap up the clay and filter bags in plastic bags and send them to the dump in plastic bags and at least that way there wouldn't be an explosion on the way to the dump.
CCR: The clay went to the county dump?
CRUZ: Yes. There is an EPA employee at the dump. It's that person who says --- you can't dump paint here, and you have to take your tires back home.
CCR: I thought the counties run those dump sites.
CRUZ: It depends on what state you are in. In Illinois, they had an EPA employee at the dump. And that person would check to see whether things could be dumped. And this person would allow the ADM dumpsters to come in and dump all that hexane tainted clay. But if you or I had a half a can of paint, they wouldn't let you take that in.
CCR: The dump site was in Decatur?
CRUZ: Yes, right outside of Decatur.
CCR: So, ADM admitted to you that it was releasing more hexane and particulates into the air than allowed by its permit. And they were taking hexane treated clay to the dump. Any other issues?
CRUZ: Well, the state EPA person had their office right there on ADM property.
CCR: How did you resolve those issues?
CRUZ: After I made claims to loss prevention, things got worse for me. I kept asking them what they were going to do about it, and they said they were going to put the clay and hexane in bags and send them to the dump. And that they would start working on doing something about the air emissions. And then things got worse for me. They started working me 16 hours at a time. I got eight hours off. I would work 21 days out of 24 days. They started working me into the ground.
CCR: Was there a union at ADM?
CRUZ: There was a union there, but not for me. I was considered management.
CCR: They were retaliating?
CRUZ: Exactly. And all this time I was sick. My lungs were messed up from the fire and hexane. I was breathing in more and more hexane. My hair was falling out. Bubbles coming out of my skin. I would get cramps. I would get real jerky. I would stab myself in the face. I couldn't sleep at night because I would be kicking and frolicking around on the bed like a fish.
CCR: How old are you?
CRUZ: I'm 46. I kept going to the doctor. Then, one day, I got a big dose of hexane.
CCR: You can smell it?
CCR: What does hexane smell like?
CRUZ: Halfway between gasoline and acetone.
CCR: What does acetone smell like?
CRUZ: Fingernail polish. I got a bad dose one day, a large dose. And it just made me sicker than normal. I went to a doctor afterwards. It was on a Sunday. I had to go into the emergency room. When I went in there, they put me in the hospital. They said I couldn't leave.
CCR: What hospital was it?
CRUZ: Decatur Memorial. They said that my blood levels were so high and my oxygen was so messed up that I couldn't go home. They put me in the hospital overnight and kept me there. I went to see the doctor and the doctor told me --- under no circumstances will you go back into that plant because the hexane will kill you. So, I couldn't go back to the plant. That was in May 1998. While I was under my doctor's care and told not to go back, they fired me.
CRUZ: They said the doctors didn't know what they were talking about.
CCR: Who told you you were fired?
CRUZ: They had me come in and tried to talk me into coming back to work, to not say anything about hexane, to say that I wasn't injured by hexane, that it was something else.
CCR: They tried to get you to come back. And you said?
CRUZ: First they tried to convince me to come back and then they fired me.
CCR: What was your doctor's name?
CRUZ: Wayne Kelly.
CCR: When you were fired, what did you do?
CRUZ: I tried to talk them out of firing me. My year lease on the house I was living in was up. My landlord wanted me to sign another year's lease. I wouldn't sign it. I had to get out of the house. I have a wife and three kids. At that time, the kids were in high school, junior high and elementary school. I owned a home in Colorado, and my tenants were moving out. I had no place to live in Decatur. I tried to talk ADM out of firing me. They said no, but they sent a moving truck to move me back to Colorado. And then when I got back to Colorado, they cut me off from all medical benefits.
I got a lawyer in Illinois. And they started to proceed on worker's compensation and on an EEOC claim. It ended up coming to nothing. The workman's comp was based on my ability to work. After two years, I was able to go back to work, there was no harm done. So, the lawyers told me --- settle for $40,000 or you will lose. So, I settled for $40,000, which was almost nothing after expenses. On the EEOC, the lawyers ended up saying --- we don't want to fight this, there is not enough money in it. And they said they didn't have the time or inclination to go against ADM. So they dropped me. And I couldn't find another lawyer who would fight ADM in Illinois.
CCR: What were you doing from 1998 to 2001?
CRUZ: In 1998, I started working for another engineering company in Lakewood, Colorado. In 2001, the company laid off 14 people. I was one of them. Business got slow. I then moved to West Virginia to work this job that I'm working now.
CCR: Have you spoken out publicly before now about this issue?
CRUZ: Well, I got a lawyer.
CCR: Did you try and contact the media in Illinois?
CRUZ: Yes. But they didn't want to report on anything bad about ADM in Illinois. I called the Decatur Herald-News. The television stations. The other papers in the state. They weren't interested.
CCR: Why did you decide to speak out now?
CRUZ: I was contacted by Becky Ellis, whose son died at age 22 from a rare form of lung cancer. She lives in Decatur. I feel that maybe I could have helped prevent it. Becky said that she had been trying to get a hold of me. She had found a report that I had made against ADM to the EPA.
CCR: You called EPA while you were an employee with ADM?
CRUZ: Yes. I made the report to the EPA and ADM ended up telling me that they knew I had gone to the EPA. That's one reason they fired me.
CCR: You must have known that would have put your job at risk.
CRUZ: I knew how much hexane was being released. I knew that it was a problem and they weren't doing anything about it. I knew that I had been injured. I felt that somebody needed to say something about this. When I took environmental law at the Colorado School of Mines, they taught us that if you are the person in charge of something that is going on, you are responsible for it. If something comes about, you are the one who goes to jail. I was in charge. I was sending those filter bags to the dump. I knew that the emissions were going up the stack. I was the only one liable for all of this pollution. And nobody was doing anything about it. The guy who was doing the testing was turning in low numbers that they would just agree with because they kept them under the permit limit. And I knew if something hit the fan, it was going to be me.
CCR: You wrote at the time, on ADM stationary, "When I started talking to EPA, ADM said that I didn't know what I was talking about, that I had better mind my own business. And yet when they called in their own engineers for training, they used my material to train 100 of their best people to go out and determine hexane emissions. I have enclosed the handouts given to these engineers, and if you look close, you will see where I have signed my work, something they taught me at an ethics class at the Colorado School of Mines." You also say that the hexane losses were well above permit levels at the lecithin plant.
CRUZ: They put some monitors on the vent condensers where they were sending out the hexane. The sensors would read the amount of hexane. But someone would come in with a little screwdriver and adjust the sensor to read lower. So, every shift, somebody would go and read the sensor. Three readings every 24 hours. But they were adjusting the readings downward.
CCR: Did they admit that they were doing that?
CRUZ: No. But I watched them do it. The guys who worked for me would take the readings.
CCR: Has the EPA ever taken action against ADM for these releases of hexane?
CRUZ: Not that I know of. Becky Ellis went to the EPA and she says there has never been an action against them. EPA told me they never received anything. So, I sent it to three people at EPA certified. Then they said they were working on it. Then later on, the person working on it wasn't there. The last time I heard, they hadn't done anything about it, and the EPA person said that ADM was taking care of their problems.
CCR: What is your current diagnosis?
CRUZ: I've got something called exonal neuropathy -- that means my nerves are messed up.
CCR: What are the symptoms?
CRUZ: I get the herky jerkies. My legs kick out. My arm will jerk. Some of my co-workers had similar symptoms. Mine wasn't ongoing until after the last dose. Then the symptoms never went away.
CCR: Did it get better after you left the facility?
CRUZ: Somewhat, but I'm taking medication for Parkinson's disease, I take medication for swollen brain. I take Oxycontin for pain in my head.
CCR: Have you been diagnosed with Parkinson's?
CRUZ: No, it's not Parkinson's. I have Parkinson's-like symptoms. There are
not many studies or work that has been done on hexane-related health effects.
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