It was 40 years ago that Nancy Alderman went to the Upjohn Company’s annual meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with enough shares of Upjohn stock to gain the right to speak at their annual meeting, in May of 1981.
The company would never divulge what they were manufacturing at the North Haven plant. We now know they were making numerous toxic products, some used in dyes and pigments, some were photographic chemicals, some sunscreen agents, additives for soaps, perfumes and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and photo-initiators, and pesticides.
These products had been polluting the air and waters of the towns of North Haven, Hamden, and New Haven for years. In the evening hours the plant would release its toxic emissions through its 100 vents, hoping people would be asleep and not notice what they were doing. However, the odors from the plant were so offensive that many were awakened from there sleep by them. The plant was also discharging toxic materials into the Quinnipiac River.
Many people had died of cancer from working in the plant, and many more, uncounted for, had died transporting and living near the chemical plant. Citizens had complained to the town and the company for years. Finally the CT Fund for the Environment got involved.
Fred Krupp, the now president of The Environmental Defense Fund, was the executive director of the CT Fund for the Environment and Alderman was the President of the organization in 1980-81. Together they worked for a year collecting the proxy shares of the Upjohn Company’s stock.
They collected the Upjohn shares from Yale University, the Union Trust Company, the Pension Fund of the City of New Haven , The First Bank, The United Presbyterian Church of America, The Firemen’s Pension Fund, all together the stock they collected represented 123,680 shares of Upjohn stock, three percent of the outstanding stock.
This gave Alderman the privilege of going to Kalamazoo and speaking at the Upjohn annual meeting. The Upjohn Family were Presbyterians, so hearing that Alderman had all the shares of the United Presbyterian Church made a huge impression among the family members.
The speech that Alderman gave at the annual meeting told the stock holders of the serious problems their plant had in North Haven. She told them that the company had resisted cooperating with citizens for over ten years.
They were told that the plant had more than 100 stacks and vents all emitting toxic fumes into three communities. “A company that imposes hazards on a community without being forth coming about what those carcinogens are is not serving their stock holders well” Alderman said. The Company is not being financially responsible. What is happening in North Haven can leave the company open to massive losses through law suits,” she continued.
“The amount of adverse publicity Upjohn is receiving has the possibility to damage the Upjohn name forever,” Alderman continued. “How can the Upjohn Company expect to sell its pharmaceuticals to a trusting public, when its chemical division is acting in such a secretive and harmful way. If the left hand is making people sick, how can the right hand be trusted to make them well?”
That speech – and that annual meeting – was the beginning of the end of the Upjohn Chemical Company in North Haven. It was the culmination of ten years of work to shut the toxic plant down.
Once gone — Universal Drive good be developed safely and Sacket Point Road could be safe for those who worked there – and the residents of North Haven, Hamden, and parts of New Haven were no longer exposed to Upjohn’s carcinogenic chemicals.
Nancy Alderman is President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.