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French Subsidiary Plays Toxic Catch-Up After Years of Inadequate Waste Disposal

WHEN France's Rhone Poulenc S.A. subsidiary in Brazil, Rhodia S.A., bought Clorogil in 1976, company executives never imagined how much the solvents factory would end up costing.

"They had to buy an incinerator for $8 million, and spend $16 million or $17 million on construction," says Pedro Penteado de Castro Neto, solid waste manager at Cetesb, the Sao Paulo state environmental agency, which oversaw the process.

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Cetesb discovered Rhodia was dumping organic chlorinate compounds on the grounds outside their factory in 1978, and convinced the company to store wastes more safely until a treatment plant could be built. Today, the company is still trying to catch up with the incineration and disposal of years' worth of waste, which causes long-term health problems.

"This could take from two to three years," says Luis Carlos Medeiros, a Rhodia spokesman. There are about 44,000 tons of waste stored or in the ground, he adds, and the plant can process only 50 tons a day.

Blood samples from local residents "show they are contaminated by this compound," Mr. Castro says. The plant is located near the Cubatao industrial park, where air pollution was so bad in the 1970s it was nicknamed "Death Valley."

"There are lots of Love Canals we don't know about," he adds, referring to the toxic waste discovered underneath an upstate New York town in the 1970s.

"It's hard for companies to find areas to do something with their waste," he says.

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