A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 September 5, 1991


The blatant, criminal negligence and indifference of North Carolina Regulators to the victims of the Caldwell Systems Hazardous Waste Incinerator,, that operated from 1978-1988 in Lenoir, Caldwell County, NC

There are five important facts to remember about this incinerator:

1. State officials in charge of monitoring this incinerator stated repeatedly while this facility was in operation that it operated to all state and federal regulations.
2. At least five incinerator workers suffered permanent, irreversible brain damage.

3. Community residents say they have a high rate of cancer and suffered severe respiratory problems while the incinerator operated.
4. The same North Carolina officials that allowed this notorious incinerator to operate are still in office.
5. The owners of Caldwell Systems have never been charged with any crimes,

Background. In 1987 while North Carolina was actively pursuing a new site for a commercial hazardous waste incinerator it was ignoring the severe health problems of the workers at the Caldwell Systems incinerator and the residents who lived nearby. Caldwell County built this incinerator in 1975, with funding from the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, for the purpose of disposing furniture factory wastes. After there was a serious explosion and fire at the incinerator in December 1976 the county decided to lease the incinerator, built on county land, to Caldwell Systems. The three owners of Caldwell Systems are: Charles Fouchee, Charles Milford 3rd and A.B. Bullington. Charles Milford had left a superfund site for the state to clean up at the JADCO Hughes Corp. site in Belmont, NC. For the 10 years that Caldwell Systems operated, cattle died, flies and mosquitoes were not found in the area, thousands of worms died after rainstorms, the groundwater and soil became heavily contaminated, and because the community received no response from county and state agencies, they began their own cancer and serious illness registry. Roy Gorman, the state biologist, examined the toxic effects of the incinerator air pollutants on the plants in the area. He told it like it was, that chlorinated materials were coming out of the incinerator and damaging plant life. The state responded by (1) sending Gorman to a psychiatrist; (2) closed down his greenhouse; and (3) removed him from his job and made him a data-entry clerk. The major supplier of wastes to Caldwell Systems was the United States Navy, which shipped in used torpedo fuel, called Otto Fuel, the main constituent which is PROPYLENE GLYCOL DI-NITRATE. This is the chemical suspected of causing the severe brain damage suffered by at least five of the incinerator workers. The workers handling this material did not have adequate protective air respirators or other protective clothing available to them when they handled the Otto fuel, in fact, they dressed in shorts and short sleeve shirts. Throughout most of its operation, this incinerator ran without any pollution controls. Over 50% of the waste to the incinerator came from outside the state. The county negotiated a settlement to shut down the incinerator in May 1988, but the settlement allowed Caldwell Systems to continue as a waste brokerage and storage facility and it continued to have many explosions at the site, until they had a fire that closed them down permanently in Sept. 1989. In 1987 WTVD, Channel 11, after a month long investigation by reporter Dave Bolek, aired a five-part series called Fire on the Mountain. This series opened with a farmer wearing a respirator while milking her cows because of the smoke and odors coming from the incinerator. At 2:30 am WTVD filmed four-foot flames shooting out the incinerator stack. Dr. Mark Guerra, the local medical doctor, said his patients were sick because of the emissions from Caldwell Systems and that his patients showed symptoms of phosgene poisoning. Paul Wilms, of the NC Natural Resources Dept., stated there was yet no technical or legal evidence that residents or workers had been impacted by the incinerator. Caldwell’s incinerator had a manufacturer’s design to burn 1,882 pounds per hour, yet the state permitted Caldwell to burn 4,018 pounds per hour.

In July 1990, Video Active Productions interviewed Dr. Mark Guerra, several residents and two former Caldwell employees. One of the interviews was with a former tank farm operator at Caldwell Systems, Keith Killian, who unloaded bulk loads that came in 5,000 gallon tankers and 55 gallon drums. Keith has suffered permanent, irreversible brain damage, severe headaches, nausea, balance problems, memory problems, and severe rashes. Together with Keith, Dr. Guerra identified his health problems in a heartbreaking visual manner. Keith, at 27, suffers from very severe tremors, which is seen in Parkinson’s disease. Keith has great difficultly to touch his nose with one finger. He cannot walk heel to toe without losing his balance. His fine motor capacity has been severely disturbed. Keith’s blood pressure fluctuates widely within a 15 minute span. The damage to his frontal lobes, which is responsible for his short term memory problems is, according to Dr. Guerra “similar to that you would see in an Alzheimer’s patient.” Dr. Guerra stated that he and two other doctors concurred that Keith’s neurologic problems were definitely caused by his exposure to toxic and hazardous waste. Their concern is that the most likely single agent that induced this is Otto fuel, which is used torpedo fuel. This video titled, Scandal in North Carolina, is available for $25 from Video Active, Route 2, Box 322, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-386-8797. Siting of the Incinerator. Located on Link Mountain. One half of the people of Caldwell County is estimated to live within a file mile radius of the incinerator. The population of the county is approx. 60,000. The main industry is furniture. Caldwell County is the most heavily industrialized county in the state. Farmer blamed for his dying cows. According to LC Coonse, a physics and chemistry teacher at a local high school, there was a farm that abutted the Caldwell Systems incinerator property owned by Truitt Haas. Haas’ cattle were dying with weird types of sarcomas of the liver and kidneys. The State’s veterinarians blamed Haas for poor animal husbandry. The State identified a poison weed on Haas’ land, and explained away the soil contamination at the farm by blaming Haas for pouring gasoline out of his chain saw onto his land. LC told Waste Not that he informed State, County and EPA officials, in 1985, that Caldwell Systems had a buried pipe leading from their facility onto Haas’ farm for the purpose of dumping wastes. Eventually Truitt Haas lost his farm, dairy business and health. Caldwell Systems also dumped toxic and hazardous wastes at the county-owned local landfill. Update on Caldwell Systems Incinerator: Waste Not interviewed Dr. Guerra to follow up on Keith Killian. Dr. Guerra told us that Keith has improved in some ways, but not in others. He told us that Keith’s memory problems are the same, his joint problems, muscle aches, numbness and organic mood disorder have all worsened. The 25 workers Dr. Guerra knows share a common bond: an organic mood disorder related to exposures. Among incinerator workers some have gotten a little bit better, some have remained the same, and for the severely impacted workers, their problems have slowly and gradually worsened. They need a lot of medical care. For 14 residents in the area, most of their health problems have improved after closure of the incinerator. Their respiratory problems have improved although they still have problems when exposed to cold air or pungent odors. They appear more prone to developing respiratory illness. The incinerator workers had their cases heard by the Industrial Development Commission, and they settled out of court. Though the settlements might have appeared like a lot of money to the workers at the time, it is not enough for the numerous medicines, hospital and doctors visits they require. The state now says that this incinerator was not properly designed to burn hazardous wastes, even though for the 10 years that this incinerator operated, the state said this facility was not a hazard. A health study of the area is being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) EPA is in charge of the study being carried out by the Centers for Disease Control. LC Coonse told Waste Not that the ATSDR study control group is a community which lives within one mile of the Broyerhill furniture incinerator in Caldwell County which burns furniture wastes. The furniture industry uses millions of pounds of solvents to get a ‘nice finish’ on the furniture. For more information on the Caldwell incinerator contact: L.C. Coonse, 71 Pinewood Rd, Granite Falls, NC 28630. Tel: 704-396-3288.

WASTE NOT # 163 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.