Attorneys for eight employees have filed a personal injury lawsuit against Hart County’s largest employer, Tenneco, Inc.
In the suit filed last week, the workers claim Tenneco failed to adequately protect them from the chemical hexavalent chromium, according to their attorney, Drew Hill.
“Our clients are alleging they were exposed to hexavalent chromium, which is used in the Hartwell plant in the manufacture of shock absorbers,” said Hill.
Hexavalent chromium is a caustic and dangerous chemical known to cause cancer and other respiratory problems after long-term exposure.
Hill says the eight employees he’s representing have been experiencing a number of health problems.
“We’re just getting started in the litigation, but there are various injuries, such as nasal injuries and respiratory injuries from exposure to the chemical, ” Hill said.
According to the complaint, the two plating machines at Tenneco use hexavalent chromium in the plating process.
The plating machines are equipped with air scrubbers and ventilators, but the lawsuit claims the company that installed the hood ventilators and scrubbers, Atotech, USA, did not put them in correctly.
In the complaint, the employees say the exposure dates back to 2007.
They claim in 2010, they started detecting a strong odor of hexavalent chromium in the factory and asked their employer repeatedly to check out the smells.
Upon inspection, the workers say they found cracked and broken ventilation hoods and scrubbers that were not cleaning the fumes from the air.
The workers claim in their suit they made the company aware of the broken ventilation system, but the company took no action until 2011 when they brought in the firm of Compass Health and Safety who took samples of the air and concluded there was no problem.
The Hart County Tenneco plant has been fined twice in the last two years by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration for its failure to adequately protect its employees from exposure to hexavalent chromium.
Tenneco Spokesman Mike Alzamora said last week that the company had not yet seen a copy of the suit.
The employees are seeking unspecified monetary damages.
The company has 30 days to respond to the complaint.