Olin Chlor Alkali McIntosh Plant

The Olin Chlor Alkali McIntosh Plant is located in southwestern Alabama near the site of an underground salt dome. It was first opened in 1952 and continues to operate into the present day. The plant employs more than 300 people and sits on a 2,200 acre campus. The main products made by the factory include caustic soda, chlorine, bleach, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen gas, and salt.

The Olin Corporation has invested $45 million into plant improvements to protect workers and the surrounding area from chemical accidents. This is partly in response to a previous environmental contamination that required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) involvement in the cleanup. However, the factory, in recent years, has received the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Pollution Prevention Award and the Norfolk Southern Thoroughbred Award (given for “incident-free handling” of chemical shipments via railroad).

Through the manufacture of chemical products, the Olin McIntosh Plant released mercury and other chemicals into the ground water below the factory, contaminating local drinking water and threatening area wetlands. Further contamination from these chemicals extends east of the Olin property into a 65-acre natural basin.

The Olin McIntosh Plant is a Superfund site. Superfund is a federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated by hazardous substances. The Olin McIntosh Plant is on the National Priority List of Superfund.

In 1984, cleanup began on the Olin McIntosh Plant site. Major components of the cleanup included installing wells to treat ground water, upgrading the old plant landfill to prevent further contamination, and implementing institutional controls for land and water use. In 1987, Olin began treating the contaminated ground water, and in 1990, 11,407 tons of hexachlorobenzene contaminated soil was removed from the McIntosh area. The cleanup was mostly performed by the responsible parties with oversight from the EPA.

Monitoring of the site’s ground water and land use continues to the present day. As of 2009, full clean-up had yet to be achieved, and the effort was ongoing to prevent remaining sediment from contaminating ground water. Future work on the site’s cleanup includes a long-term plan for monitoring and maintaining the site to prevent future mishaps and the indefinite maintenance of a water extraction and treatment system to ensure that all ground water has been purified.

Another health issue likely to be a problem at the McIntosh Plant due to the facilities age is asbestos. The widespread use of asbestos as an insulator was very common in chemical plants built before the 1980s, like the McIntosh plant.  Namely for its excellent fire-retardant nature and relatively inexpensive price, asbestos was used to insulate everything from work benches to ceiling tiles and it was even made into protective clothing for plant workers to wear. Unfortunately, asbestos is toxic and those who spend extensive time around the fiber are susceptible to serious illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with a latency period of 20 to 50 years. Since many times it takes decades to discover, once a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma the cancer is usually so advanced that it is quite difficult to treat.