Arkema Kensington Plant

Arkema, Inc., is a diversified chemicals manufacturer with 24 plants across North America and a research and development facility in Paris.  The company, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, employs 2,050 people in the field of vinyl products, industrial chemicals, and performance products.  Arkema owns a chemical plant in Kensington, Connecticut, where it manufactures acrylic and polycarbonate sheet products.

The Kensington plant began manufacturing the molding resin needed to make Plexiglas acrylic in 1975, when Arkema went under the name of Atofina Chemicals, Inc., a part of the Rohm and Haas Company.  This business merged with Elf Atochem S.A. in 1992 to become Atohaas, which owned the plant until it came under full control of Arkema in 1998.  Today, the plant has 75 full-time employees.

Plexiglas, a trademark of the Rohm and Haas Company since 1933, is known scientifically as polymethyl methacrylate, or PMMA.  Arkema also sells PMMA under the brand name Altuglas.  In addition to Plexiglas acrylic sheet, the Kensington plant also manufactures Tuffak polycarbonate sheet, which is used to make safety glazing windows for various vehicles, as well as bulletproof glass and vehicle armor for security and defense applications.  Polycarbonate sheeting is similar to Plexiglas, but much stronger and more expensive.

The fabrication of chemicals such as these acrylic sheets requires high temperatures and corrosive materials. In order to protect manufacturing equipment and even employees, builders of chemical plants like the one in Kensington often used asbestos in insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, pipe coverings, and many other products.  Though fireproof, cheap, and easily available, this mineral would ultimately exact a high cost on those who worked with and around it.

When asbestos fibers escape into the air and are breathed into the lungs, they remain embedded in tissues and organs for years.  Mesothelioma, a form of cancer that is almost always directly attributable to asbestos exposure, may not develop for 20 to 50 years after the patient has stopped working with asbestos, but the damage has already been done.  Workers in chemical plants like the Arkema plant at Kensington may have been exposed to asbestos during their years working at the facility.