The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services closed a polyurethane foam and fiber factory because of health concerns by neighbors, after 150 people were evacuated from their homes Sept. 2.
The state shut down Trinity American Corp. on Sept. 3 as a public health nuisance.
Trinity American, in the small town of Glenola near High Point, N.C., remains closed, idling 160 workers in the community of 500 people.
Trinity makes PU foam for the furniture and bedding industries, and fiber used to make felt pads for those same markets.
``The citizens have been complaining for about 10 years,'' said Bill Furney, public health director for HHS.
In mid-1996, the state shut down Trinity for one week. It was the first shutdown under new North Carolina environmental regulations.
In trying to correct emissions problems, Trinity spent $2 million during the past 18 months to add 10-foot venting stacks, a charcoal filter system, and conduct testing, said company President Jerry Drye.
Drye said Trinity has complied with every order to monitor toluene diisocyanate vapors and other emissions, and has kept them under government-approved limits.
After the shutdown, 70 Trinity workers staged a protest march outside the state agency in Raleigh, N.C.
Furney agreed that Trinity has met the regulations and taken steps to fix the problem. But he said the order came after government health officials, using an organic vapor analyzer, found dangerous emissions in the range of one-to-five parts per million near the factory Sept. 2.
Furney said the OVA test is meant to be an early-warning device. The test did not show exactly what type of emissions were in the air, but the levels were high enough to cause a voluntary evacuation under the protocol established by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
A voluntary evacuation means there was no order to evacuate, Furney said.
But Trinity's Drye said firefighters wearing breathing masks went door to door at 2 a.m. to tell them.
``There has been a lot of hysteria surrounding this with the newspaper articles and implications of health effects,'' he said. ``But we also have a lot of neighbors who are very supportive and have had no problems with the plant.''
Barbara Fulcher lives next to the factory. She has complained that fumes from the plant have made her and her family sick.
Furney said recent tests have shown that Fulcher and a state health worker have tested positive for TDI antibodies.
``Now that doesn't mean there is some ailment associated with the antibodies, but it means they have been exposed to it, and their body is reacting to that exposure,'' he said.
The state is testing more than 20 residents, but so far the only results that have come back are for Fulcher and the health worker, Furney said Sept. 12.
TDI exposure also can sensitize people, meaning they have a lower tolerance to other chemicals as well, he said.
``Under the conditions of the order, they have to show that they can operate without creating a public health nuisance'' before the foam company can reopen, Furney said.
Drye said laid-off employees were filing for unemployment compensation. Drye was studying how to proceed last week.
``We've made various suggestions and offers to them on ways we could reopen the plant, and none of them have been successful so far,'' Drye said.