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Report: Chemical Drums Jeopardize Workers, Nearby Residents

A whistleblower called the procedures a "travesty waiting to happen.”

The steel drums used to store and ship the world's fuels and chemicals could be endangering workers and threatening residents near facilities that clean them, a recent investigation found.

The report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailed safety hazards at six facilities operated by CLCM, a joint venture primarily owned by Ohio industrial packaging company Greif Inc. that reconditions used storage drums.

The investigation was primarily based on secret recordings of a safety briefing conducted by Steele Johns, a Greif safety manager, at a facility on Milwaukee's north side.

The conversation was one of numerous recordings captured by Will Kramer, a whistleblower who, at the time, was one of several safety consultants that participated in the briefing. Johns reportedly told the consultants that he was concerned about the presence of volatile chemicals and lax safety measures -- but that company officials ignored his warnings.

At the time of the briefing, in late 2015, he called the procedures a "travesty waiting to happen,” according to the Journal Sentinel.

The paper noted that federal guidelines allow up to one inch of material to remain in drums classified as "empty," and that companies often opt against cleaning drums further in order to avoid hazardous material shipping regulations.

Some companies ship containers with larger amounts of residue to refurbishing facilities like those operated by CLCM.

As a result, workers at those facilities β€” who often have no idea what they're handling and lack proper safety equipment β€” end up mixing potentially volatile chemicals together or dumping them into the environment.

The environmental violations drew citations from regulators, but the Journal Sentinel reported that CLCM was structured in order to shield Greif from civil liability.

The safety issues, meanwhile, resulted in injuries and health problems at CLCM's facilities in Milwaukee, Memphis, Indianapolis and Arkadelphia, Ark. The Indianapolis facility was also the site of a large fire in 2014.

Greif officials told the paper that the company made changes to address the safety issues, while Johns issued a statement that a look at one of the Milwaukee facilities today "shows a vastly different picture" than the one during his 2015 briefing.

In a conversation with Kramer late last year, however, he said that CLCM plants continued to enable mixtures of unknown, potentially hazardous chemicals.

β€œThey don’t care,” Johns said in September, according to a recording. β€œThis is the way we’ve always done it.”

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