Thursday, September 08, 2005

MDA Milkshakes

First off, this is not about Methylenedioxyamphetamene (MDA), or it's other form MDMA (ecstasy), neither is this about the Muscular Dystrophy Association. No, were talking about the toxic chemical: Methylenedianiline (MDA). It's what you get when you condense aniline and formaldehyde together to make really awful shit.

I worked for a millwright that did contract work for Hercules. Hercules used to be the big explosives manufacturer then eventually went into the aerospace industry. I think they're run under a different name now. I worked (surprise) as a laborer for this contractor doing mostly demolition. I never got to build stuff. Mainly, we "reconfigured" stuff like blast retention walls at rocket testing/manufacturing sites, and in this particular case, we were gutting out a building that was in one of their massive factories where the rocket engine cylinders were manufactured. The job was seriously dirty.

This room housed the part of the manufacturing process that mixed the MDA, that was then impregnated into the graphite fibers that were woven onto the mandrel--MDA is used in wire coatings, potting/encapsulating of electronics, and in this case, advanced composite materials production. Basically, it binds the graphite together. MDA is a human carcinogen and a heptatoxic agent. In other words, it can give you cancer and cause hepatoxicity, basically a chemical version of hepatitis. Liver damage, anyone? Whether it be by inhalation, ingestion, or dermal absorption, prolonged exposure to this agent will cause mucho problemos. Our job, again, was to tear all that crap out that mixed and impregnated this stuff into the graphite fiber.

On our first day of the contract, we went through our usual OSHA orientation of "things that would kill or seriously damage you"-- if it wasn't your day. There we got our introduction to MDA. We were told that we would be wearing HAZMAT suits, would have to bag and tag every scrap that came out of the structure, and that if our suits tore and MDA got on our clothing, that it was to be bagged and tagged as well. If we got it on our skin, it was "free naked shower time" in the old emergency decontamination area--which didn't have much privacy I might add. I was later told by my boss that if you got a little on you it wasn't too bad--it just stained your skin tobacco-brown for a few months. However, these OSHA guys had me freaked out.

We were led through the main humongoid building towards the building within it that had to be gutted. The environment necessary for this part of the manufacturing process has to be HOT! There was a foot of special insulation on the inside (Fiberglas tile) as well as conventional Fiberglas insulation laid out on the top of the building. It was hotter than a bitch kitty in there. We estimated that it was between 115 to 130 degrees fahrenheit and we had to wear friggin' HAZMAT gear, too. This place housed a machine called a "flying wedge" which did the job of impregnation (always the best job, I say). It had lines and pipes going every which way; damn, it was a hard, dirty job. The thing that got me wondering was, why they were having us tear all this out for? After clearing out the flying wedge room, I found out why. On to the mixing room.

These motherfugwankers had their employees mix the components for the MDA in big paper cups using a damn shake mixer--you know, the type at your local choke and puke drive in. Think of how much ice cream gets thrown around on these "Dairy Queer" workers, then, think about think about what these workers who mixed the MDA would have had on them. They used to only wear a dust mask, gloves, and an apron. It turns out that there were several cases of cancer and liver damage cropping up with workers and they had to figure out a safer mixing process. No shit...shake fereakin' mixers--now there's a good idea!

When I started tearing the insulation off of the roof, I noticed a lot of pigeon shit on the side butting the bigger building. The main building had those checkered widows and a few of them were broken. This is where the pigeons got in. When I finally got over to that side, I found about six freshly dead pigeons with MDA stained beaks and many more in various states of decay. I bagged and tagged those unlucky bastards, very gross.

I started to notice that my boss was not bagging and tagging the plywood and started to secretly load it on a flatbed trailer. Later, we missed a few items, and he wanted to come out under bid (finish quicker-->get richer). Well, he threw those on the flatbed too. On our way home that day my boss sold the plywood to a guy for a decent return. The guy wanted to build a shed and thought that the brown "stain" on the plywood was nice. Our next stop was at the dump, we had extra material from another job that had to be thrown away. We started to throw all the refuse off the trailer and I found the chewy center that my boss had hidden from the OSHA guys: two five-gallon drums of MDA. I protested that I wouldn't throw it out. He basically shoved me aside and kicked the barrels over, spilling their contents onto the ground.

I was really young at the time and chickened out. I should have reported him, but I didn't. I still feel responsible for not doing anything about it. I hope to God that it didn't harm anybody. I rationalized that since it was in a landfill, it was already in a messed up place. I imagine that crap like this happens all the time and we all end up getting some kind of toxic milkshake sooner or later.

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