Naugatuck Chemical Company
The Naugatuck Chemical Company was formed June 1, 1904 in Western Connecticut. Along with other chemicals, this particular plant was best known for producing rubber. In 1916 the company united several footwear brands under one name, Keds. Keds were the first mass-marketed canvas top sneakers in 1917. Along with their reclaimed rubber unit, Naugatuck Chemical Co. manufactured sulfuric acid, nitric acid, muriatic acid, hydrofluoric acid, acetic acid, nitrobenzene, aniline, and antimony sulfides.
The various chemicals manufactured at this plant serve a variety of purposes including the postwar products Naugahyde and Vibrin. Other research and development included work on synthetic rubbers, rubber chemicals, aromatic chemicals, agricultural chemicals, dye intermediates, plastics, lacquers, and high explosives.
The company gained independence as Uniroyal Chemical Co. in 1966. In the 1970s operations were moved to Middlebury, CT and later that decade almost all operations in Naugatuck ceased. The Naugatuck plant employed 9,500 people at its peak. However, that number dropped to only about 50 people in more recent years. Most of the remaining buildings on the property were demolished in 2008.
As far back as 1890, with few environmental laws in place, the state Sewage Commission deemed that the Naugatuck River was already polluted to its limit. This was due to industrial waste caused by the Naugatuck Chemical Co. and other neighboring factories. However, the company’s history of pollutant exposure was not limited to its impact on this river. Due to the age and history of this chemical plant it is likely that this plant exposed former employees to asbestos. Asbestos was used to insulate machinery and plumbing throughout various factories in the United States. Today, standard government warnings and asbestos removal and encapsulating practices have been put into place. However, that does little for former employees of plants such as the Naugatuck one. Asbestos is a known material cause of the cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma maintains a high rate of development among employees who had prolonged exposure to asbestos.