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Environmental Progress - Summer 2000

P2 Commitment Helps Firm Earn OSHA "Star" Award

Dexter Corp., Waukegan, demonstrates enthusiasm with simulated "spill"

Last summer, Dexter Corporation in Waukegan, a leader in the development of specialty coatings for the aerospace, automotive, and specialty markets, hosted a training exercise in cooperation with the Waukegan Fire Department and the Lake County Hazardous Materials (HazMat) Team. A hazardous materials spill situation was simulated inside the Dexter facility to allow the HazMat members an opportunity to practice response procedures under actual industrial conditions.

"This kind of cooperation reflects the commitment that Dexter has to improving safety for their employees and the community," said Lt. Mike Scholle, Waukegan Fire Department.

The Waukegan facility, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, is the major domestic coating manufacturing site for Dexter. Ongoing investment in technology has resulted in a new line of coatings that became the first airframe-approved primer and topcoat system to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory requirements for aerospace coatings.

"We have a proactive position on health, safety and environmental issues," according to Hugh A. Flack, Jr., director for health, safety and environment, for Dexter, Waukegan. Maintaining this position for a company in the paint and coatings industry is not as easy as it may sound. Lofty mission statements and eloquent verbiage are not always followed by comparable actions. Actions taken at the Waukegan facility, however, show the company is serious about its commitment.

Like other participants in the IEPA's Multi-State Work Group Pilot Project, Dexter voluntarily developed an Environmental Management System. Reducing the quantity of volatile organic compounds used in the manufacture of paints and coatings can be much more difficult when trying to retrofit portions of an aging facility such as the Waukegan plant which has been in continuous operation since the 1940s. Ultimately, the effort led to the renovation of operations and an upgrade of the facility, in turn resulting in a state-of-the-art coatings production facility in Waukegan.

For some organizations, such a costly and complex renovation would have been an impressive, but isolated, accomplishment in the arena of environmental and safety improvements. For Dexter, the renovation is part of a decade-long record of improvements.

Companies are required by the Voluntary Protection Program developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) to submit a detailed application detailing their safety programs. After Dexter submitted its application, OSHA sent a team to Waukegan for five days to evaluate safety practices inside the facility. OSHA awarded the Waukegan facility STAR status, the highest rating given. Dexter's facility is one of only 650 companies across the U.S. to receive STAR status.

In addition to attaining national recognition for improvements in environmental and safety issues, the Waukegan facility has participated in activities at the local level. Dexter has been an active member of the Waukegan Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) which helped restore impaired water uses in near shore Lake Michigan and Waukegan Harbor, one of 43 "hot spots" designated as "Areas of Concern" on the Great Lakes. Dexter is one of the original members of the Waukegan CAG which, among other accomplishments, has helped forge linkages between the economy, environment, and community. As a consequence, Waukegan Harbor has been internationally recognized as the "model for the other Areas of Concern to follow." Jean Schreiber, Waukegan CAG chairperson, reports that "Dexter has always willingly and without hesitation supported our efforts. Corporate support from Dexter in the area has been an important part of our success."

"We are not finished. In addition to operating in compliance with state and federal air regulations, we want to continue improving our environmental health and safety initiatives," added Flack.

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