Sep 27, 2021 - News
Tampa battery smelter blasted by report
Gopher Resource employee pours melted lead from recycled batteries into ingots for reuse at a Gopher Resource plant.
Gopher Resource employee Tracy Bennett pours melted lead from recycled batteries into ingots for reuse at a Gopher Resource plant. Photo: Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune via Getty Images

High readings of airborne toxic metal cadmium should have compelled Tampa battery smelter Gopher Resource to closely track the risk to employees, but they didn't, according to the Tampa Bay Times' latest investigation into the troubled plant.

  • Cadmium, known to cause cancer, had soared in the plant to 100 times the federal workplace limit. It's in scrap metal and the lead that workers take from used car batteries, which is then liquefied in furnaces, purified in the refinery and forged into new blocks to be sold.

Earlier this year, the Times documented the east Tampa company's troubles with neurotoxic lead and other chemicals, including details of how company officials and government regulators mishandled or ignored another toxic particulate.

Why it matters: Records obtained by the Times depict a company that left workers clueless about cadmium exposure despite federal rules requiring they be given comprehensive data.

  • Company officials told the Times they were busy dealing with an OSHA inspection, prompted by an earlier newspaper story, and couldn't answer questions.

What they're saying: "Gopher Resource is focused on cooperating with the ongoing OSHA investigation and addressing their inspectors' questions and requests as they continue that effort," the company said in a statement.

But, but, but: For two years, one employee's urine tests showed he needed additional medical care, but the company's contracted doctor didn’t note the need for follow-up for that employee or for several others.

  • The plant didn't even have workplace signs to warn workers about cadmium, which one industrial hygienist called a "basic human right."
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