Published DateCONWAY — The Kearsarge Metallurgical Corp. has become synonymous with environmental damage following decades of cleanup of its Hobbs Street site, but the effect on the former employees of working with the hazardous materials used in the company's manufacturing process on is less well-documented.
"I don't recall we had anything indicating a serious problem for workers," Dennis Pinski, the environmental health program supervisor for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said, but "we didn't look at potential past worker exposures."
The company used a number of hazardous solvents and heavy metals in the manufacturing of valves for nuclear industry during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The company went bankrupt in 1982, leaving a tons of contamination for the state and federal government to clean up.
That cleanup effort has been well-documented, but its unclear what impact, if any, the hazardous solvents and heavy metals had on the people who worked there every day.
The state Department of Labor didn't have a safety program in the late 1970s and early 1980s when KMC was still in operation, according to officials, so they didn't have information about workers. Records from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, however, show KMC was fined thousands of dollars in the late 1970s and early 1980s for violations pertaining to worker health and safety, including problems with ventilation, air contaminants, improper protective equipment and more. Many of these violations were categorized as serious. Some garnered fines in excess of $1,200 and required formal settlements.
Finding out whether the combination of heavy metals and other hazardous materials and inadequate working conditions led to long-term problems for any KMC employees, however, is difficult.
"It's such an old site," said Pinski. Any hazardous exposures would have happened more than 30 years ago. "We don't have a record of that."
"Because it was so long ago," he said, "we don't have any place to start." If a former employee reported being sick after working at KMC, "we would try to respond to that." Environmental officials would let the employees and their doctors know what they might have been exposed to, and what the implications would be. They would also try to find out when the person worked for the company, what they were doing, and who else worked there.
The state would then try to contact others who may have experienced similar exposures, but they wouldn't have much to go on.
"We don't have lists of who worked there," Pinski said. "We don't have any employment records." Over the decades the likelihood of contacting people diminishes. "They may have scattered, he said. "They may have moved on. They may have retired."