The Federal Bureau of Investigation and environmental officials are investigating whether a California PVC resin manufacturer falsified records of both hazardous chemical exposure to workers and pollution emissions data.
FBI agents, along with a task force of environmental agencies, searched the offices of Keysor-Century Corp. in Saugus, Calif., on Feb. 12. The FBI, based partly on tips from two former employees, has been investigating the company since at least December 2000, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
An FBI affidavit said it has evidence that the company exposed workers to higher levels of vinyl chloride monomer than legally allowed and that company managers ``ordered the alteration of any readings in excess of legal action limits.''
Independent of the FBI allegations, California's workplace safety agency tested the plant in July and December 2001 and found vinyl chloride at up to 22 times legally allowed levels, said Susan Gard, spokeswoman for the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The agency found violations on both visits and has proposed fines of $218,825, she said.
Keysor President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Keysor said, ``We can't make any substantive comments until we find out what's really going on.
``We feel that some of these allegations have roots in disgruntled ex-employees,'' Keysor said.
He also said he could not speak in detail because he has been involved in day-to-day management only since September, after the death of longtime company President Howard Hill. The FBI allegation also said that plant manager Scott Speakman and foreman Frank Celeya ``instructed and/or knew of the continuous falsification.''
The Keysor family owns the company and Keysor said he had previously served on the board. Keysor said company lawyers are interviewing employees.
No criminal charges have been filed, and an FBI spokeswoman said the investigation continues.
The allegations in the Feb. 6 federal court affidavit include:
* One confidential source, described as a former lab worker employed by Keysor for 14 years, provided the FBI with handwritten reports that one employee, Gary Arment, was exposed to 13.751 parts per million VC monomer on May 15-16, 1996. The FBI said the company's official records showed .75 ppm exposure on those days. The legally allowed limit is 1 ppm.
* The company's human resources manager told the FBI that she was ``severely reprimanded'' for evacuating the plant in accordance with emergency procedures in February 1998 when a reactor gasket ruptured and more than 1,000 ppm of VC was released into the air.
* A second confidential source, described as a former Keysor employee, said the company operated at such high production levels it could not clean its reactors. The company burned hazardous waste in a natural-gas boiler, rather than properly disposing of it, in violation of federal law.
The FBI said the company was fined in October by Los Angeles County officials for releasing vinyl acetate and trichloroethylene into public drains, and for violating the Clean Water Act.
The FBI affidavit said the company also was being investigated for violating the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Some of the allegations are felonies and carry criminal penalties, the FBI said.