Aerospace Defense Coatings of Georgia, a Macon metal coating and painting plant, has been fined about $168,000 in state and federal penalties for serious and in some cases “willful” neglect of worker safety, in addition to violations of hazardous waste storage and air pollution laws.
OSHA inspectors found that Aerospace, located at 7700 N. Industrial Blvd., exposed employees to as much as 50 times the legal limit of chromium without informing them, safety records show.
Although the citations were issued in November and many were required to be corrected by January, OSHA is not yet satisfied that working conditions at the plant are safe, said Michael Wald, the regional director of public affairs for the federal Department of Labor.
“This is one of our significant cases,” he said. “This is more than a common violation. ... Chromium has some pretty nasty effects.”
Company president and CEO Thomas Scott did not return calls for comment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration originally proposed a $300,000 fine last fall for 19 health violations it called serious, repeated or willful. That total was reduced in exchange for the company’s agreeing not to fight the penalties in court, Wald said.
“That would have slowed down compliance, and we wanted to get abatement as quickly as possible,” he said.
The facility uses hexavalent chromium in its plating operation. According to the OSHA website, workplace exposure to hexavalent chromium can cause respiratory damage and lung cancer, skin rashes and chrome ulcers, depending on the type and level of exposure.
The agency inspected the Aerospace facility in May 2010 after receiving a complaint concerning personal protective equipment and the handling, storing and disposing of chemicals, according to an OSHA news release.
Employees were not given a place to eat, drink or wash without chromium residues, OSHA inspection records show. Wipe tests of a lunch bag, refrigerator and water fountain found chromium dust on the surfaces.
The company failed to provide any protective clothing in some cases, according to OSHA inspection reports, and when respirators and other protective clothing were provided, they were inadequate or not stored in places to prevent contamination. Employees couldn’t recognize the hazards or symptoms of chromium exposure.
OSHA found willful violations related to respirator protection, chromium overexposure, personal protective equipment and failure to perform periodic monitoring of chromium exposure. Willful violations are those committed intentionally or with “plain indifference to worker safety and health,” according to the news release.
The alleged serious violations included failing to post test results that showed illegally high chromium exposure for employees, failing to provide a changing area to prevent cross contamination, failing to have a medical surveillance program to protect employees, and not training employees to respond to hazardous waste emergencies. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
The company, which also had OSHA violations in 2005 and 2008, was cited for eight repeat violations related to hazardous waste, emergency response preparation, employee training, providing personal protective equipment for acids, and respirator training and storage.
According to the Aerospace Defense Coating’s website, the company’s customers have included Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. and Cessna. The company is also approved to serve more than 250 other companies, including BF Goodrich and Delta Air Lines Inc., as well as the Department of Defense, the website states.
The way the company handled chromium also led to environmental violations. The federal Environmental Protection Agency inspected Aerospace Defense Coatings in February 2010 and took samples from its wastewater in March, according to a consent order dated June 21, 2011.
The samples qualified as hazardous waste. That meant that hazardous waste was being stored illegally in unlabeled 55-gallon drums at the plant.
Some of the containers were left open, making them a spill hazard, according to the consent order. Aerospace also didn’t have a required plan for responding to fires, explosions or releases of the hazardous waste, the order stated.
Although the waste was being stored improperly, it was being disposed of legally, EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young said.
The company has certified that it is now complying with the law and has paid a $24,753 penalty, she said.
Company lacks permit
State air regulators also recently realized that Aerospace Defense Coatings, which has been registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office since 1993, has never had a required permit for its air pollution.
Karen Hays, a compliance manager in the Air Protection Program of the state Environmental Protection Division, said the plant came to her department’s attention as EPD searched for the source of some high pollution readings on one of Macon’s air monitors.
Although that turned out to be unrelated, Hays said, in January the EPD realized the chrome-plating operation had the potential to be a major source of hazardous air pollutants.
The company subsequently applied for an air permit. In a consent order finalized July 29, Aerospace also agreed to begin proper monitoring of its air emissions, pay a $13,000 penalty and pay permit fees and interest dating back to 2006.
Hays said she did not know how much the fees and interest would total. She said the state will only require the overdue fees dating back five years because companies aren’t required to maintain records longer than that.
The consent order indicates Aerospace was hiring a full-time certified industrial hygienist to deal with some of its compliance issues.
For a potential major source of air pollution to fly under the state’s radar for years “certainly happens,” Hays said. “It’s not frequent by any means.”
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.