WE CAN’T BREATHE Injection molding (thermoplastics): The most widely used technique for injection

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  • Advisory Committee members during risk mapping session

    “WE CAN’T BREATHE”

    A RETROSPECTIVE EXPOSURE PROFILE OF THE PEBRA INC. PLASTICS PLANT IN PETERBOROUGH, ONTARIO

    (1986-1996)

    PREPARED BY

    Dale DeMatteo, BA, MHSc and Robert DeMatteo, BA, MA, DOHS

    AND

    Unifor Local 1987 including: Local President, Mark Clapper, Past President, Rose Wickman, Dave Gooley, Jackie Dufty, Cecil Firlott, Karen Quesnel, and Rick McDougal

    FOR

    The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (June 2020)

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    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION 3‐4

    HISTORY OF PEBRA INC. PLASTICS 4‐5

    METHODS 6‐9

    GENERAL FINDINGS 9‐15

    BACKGROUND TO PLASTICS PRODUCTION 15‐21

    COMMON EXPOSURE EXPERIENCES AT PEBRA INC. 22‐23

    COMPLEX CHEMICAL MIXTURES 23‐25

    VENTILATION AT PEBRA INC. 25‐28

    LIMITATION OF HYGIENE MONITORING 28‐31

    PROBLEMS WITH THE EXPOSURE LIMITS 31‐33

    DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS 33‐37

    DETAILED DEPARTMENT FINDINGS 38‐105

    REFERENCES 106‐109

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 109

    APPENDIX A Literature Review 110‐167

    APPENDIX B MOL/Union Logs 168‐210

    APPENDIX C Chemicals Used at Pebra 211‐235

    APPENDIX D Rose Wickman Letter 236

    APPENDIX E Chemical Body Burden 237‐244

    APPENDIX F Risk Hazard Analysis 245‐254

    APPENDIX G Ventra Plant Layout 255

    TABLE 1 Occupational Disease at Pebra 11

    TABLE 2 Chemical Health Effects 19‐22

    TABLE 3 Low Level Health Effects 32

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    PREFACE

    “We can’t breathe. We have to get out of here!”1 A worker’s urgent cry to co‐workers, documented

    in a Union Health and Safety Committee log book, is a more dire reflection of thousands of

    individual and collective work refusals that took place during the “Pebra era” (1986‐1996) at the

    now Ventra Plastics plant in Peterborough, Ontario. A Ministry of Labour (MOL) official admitted

    that work refusals during that first turbulent decade “filled two entire filing cabinets” as he called

    on both parties to meet on neutral ground and agree to find a solution – or he threatened, “We are

    putting an (MOL, Health and Safety) officer in the building”. 2 Interestingly, the first Pebra facility that opened in Kitchener, Ontario in 1981, was acknowledged as having a much less turbulent

    history. 3 Ten years later, in 1996, Pebra declared bankruptcy and over the next five years, the

    company was sold three times, each time under bankruptcy orders. It has been a long and, as one

    MOL inspector described, “rocky road” 4 to compliance with Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety

    Act at the plant. Evidence of this “rocky road” is abundant ‐‐ from a WSIB Auditor’s report

    awarding Pebra’s Health and Safety Program an embarrassing “7% out of 100%” 5 to many

    examples of recalcitrance, indifference, and outright disregard for workers on the part of

    management, and workers themselves ignoring one of the few openly stated “safety rules” by

    smoking in washrooms.

    Importantly, what is exposed in this report is evidence of the contradictory nature of ‘scientific

    evidence’ as practiced by the MOL that pits warning information of over‐exposure provided in

    chemical manufacturers’ MSDS sheets and worker self‐reports of such exposures, against

    questionable air sampling techniques –‐ the later given priority in MOL decisions as to what is

    acceptable evidence of health ‘risks’ to workers, or constitutes a ‘harmful level’ of chemical

    exposures. From the time Pebra Inc. opened the plant in Peterborough, MOL reports document a

    pattern of worker health concerns and problematic work areas in the facility ‐‐ beginning years

    before Pebra workers knew such a thing as a “MSDS” existed or that the chemicals (other than

    Isocyanates) they were exposed to daily, and in large amounts, could be dangerous to their health.

    INTRODUCTION

    The purpose of this research project was to develop retrospective exposure profiles of the work processes at Pebra Inc., now Ventra plastics facility, in Peterborough, Ontario between 1986 and 1996. This involved a systematic effort with the participation of UNIFOR Local 1987 Workers’ Advisory Exposure Committee to collect, document and analyze empirical information about how production was carried out in this complex plastics production operation. The committee

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    was led by past and present local presidents, Rose Wickman and Mark Clapper, and included Jackie Dufty, Dave Gooley, Karen Quesnel, Cecil Firlotte, and Rick McDougal. This work was undertaken to document the extent and nature of chemical and physical exposures that are possibly linked with the various cancers and other diseases that many employees and their families suffered over the years. Given the complexity of chemical exposures in plastics production processes, and evidence of considerable by‐stander exposures, the researchers relied upon qualitative research methods to profile exposures, retrospectively.

    HISTORY OF THE PEBRA (NOW VENTRA) PLASTICS PRODUCTION FACILITY6,2

    In 1981, a German plastic auto parts firm came to Canada and first located in a 22,000 square foot facility in Kitchener, Ontario. Initially, automobile parts were made in Germany, then shipped to Kitchener for completion, and finally routed to GM in the United States. In 1984, a new production line was developed using a process called “post‐lamination” for making auto side molding with coated stainless steel sheet metal. By 1986, parts were manufactured at the Kitchener plant using an innovative process, “reaction injection molding,” brought from Germany and called “R‐RIM”. With production expanding, the company set up a second facility in Peterborough, purchasing a 200,000 sq. ft. metal clad structure, which was expanded in the late 1990s to accommodate its larger thermoplastic injection molding machines and production operations. The current plant is well over 350,000 square feet. Between 1987 and 1989, production in Peterborough focused on post‐laminating side molding and thermoplastic injection molding for auto trim parts. From 1993 to the present, a multi‐ million‐dollar, state of the art, robotic paint line was added. By 1992, the Peterborough plant employed over 400 people with the capacity to carry out R‐RIM molding (introduced in 1989), punching and notching, parts assembly, injection molding, and a semi‐automated paint facility, in addition to a North American‐wide distribution system for their completed products. Over a decade (1986 to 1996), the Peterborough workforce grew from seventy‐five to five hundred and seventy‐five women and men, with production increasing from one product to thirty different products, importantly, with no change or substantive improvement to the ventilation and air intake systems. Initially when most jobs involved close “hand work”, the workforce included more women than men (60:40), becoming closer to 50:50 as operations became more automated. Advisory Committee members identified that for every 50 people hired, approximately 30 became long‐term employees ‐– a pattern that continues to this day. By 1992, Pebra Inc. employed 3000 workers worldwide, with corporate offices in Toronto and an engineering/design office in Detroit. Yet by 1996, Pebra Inc. went into bankruptcy and since then the Peterborough plant has gone through a number of corporate ownership turnovers: first JPE Inc., and then Ventra Plastics, which in turn was taken over by Flex‐N‐Gate (its current owner) but still operating under the Ventra name. Ownership transitions were as follows: Pebra Inc. 1986‐1996; JPE 1996‐1998; Ventra 1998‐2001; Flex‐N‐Gate/Ventra 2001‐Present.

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    Along with these corporate transitions, there were a number of historical stages in plastics production at the plant including: 1986‐1988: The initial production processes (transferred from Germany) consisted of 4 small injection machines; in the next two years post laminate, roll forming, and manual paint line operations were added. 1986‐1992: Manual paint line; from 1993‐1996: partially automated paint line introduced and later expanded; by 2004, the paint line was fully automate

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