Arkema Birdsboro Plant
In 1971, the Birdsboro, Pennsylvania plant began to operate under the name Rilsan Industrial, Inc. The name of the company came from the brand name for Nylon 11, Rilsan. In 1989, Elf Atochem North America, Inc, took over the Birdsboro Plant. There was then a merger between Totalfina and the parent company of Elf Atochem, Aquitaine. After this merger, which occurred in 2000, Arkema, Inc took over the Birdsboro plant. Arkema Inc was formerly named Atofina Chemicals, Inc. Throughout the history of the plant, it has made important contributions to the economies of both Berks County and Birdsboro. Today, the plant is a contributor of more than $7 million each year to the economy of the region.
The Birdsboro plant is responsible for the production of Nylon 11 and 12 thermoplastic resins under the Rilsan brand. These resins are renowned for their ability to resist moisture, remain stable across dimensions, resist impact, abrasion, and chemical deterioration, and process easily through a wide range of markets and industries. Two major markets for these nylons are the trucking and automotive industries; in these fields, the nylons are used for vapor lines, fuel fittings, air brakes, pumps, and fuel line tubing. Copolymer Pebax brand resins are also produced at the Birdsboro plant; these resins find use in a wide range of recreational and athletic product applications, such as golf balls, sport shoes, watch bands, and cycling shoes. The only plants in the world that produce Nylon 11 are the Birdsboro facility and a sister plant in Serquigny, France.
In order to produce the thermoplastic resins manufactured at the Birdsboro plant, the facilities and the workers must deal with extreme temperatures and caustic chemicals. Because of this, many chemical plants built in the 1960s and 1970s, as Birdsboro was, used asbestos as an insulating and protecting material. At the time, though scientists and even some employers knew that asbestos exposure was linked to a number of respiratory diseases, most workers who dealt with it on a daily basis were completely unaware of the health risks. Many are still suffering the ill effects decades after the exposure ended.