Kepone is the proprietary name for decachloroocta-hydro-1,3,4,-metheno-2H-cyclobuta[cd]-pentalene-2-one, a synthetic chlorinated insecticide. The drug was patented in the 1950s by Allied Chemical and introduced in 1958 as a virtually invincible compound to combat leaf-eating insects, ants, roaches, and fly larvae. Between 1966 and 1975, Allied Chemical, with contractor Life Sciences Products, produced Kepone at a small plant in Hopewell, Virginia, along the James River. At its highest output level, the factory produced 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of Kepone per day by operating day and night. The wastes were dumped directly into the James River. Local, state, and federal authorities overlooked safety regulations or made exceptions, in large part because chemical production was Hopewell's biggest industry.
The citizens of Hopewell discovered the effects of this dumping in 1975, when an employee of Life Sciences, who suffered from a peculiar case of uncontrollable shivering, was determined to have high levels of Kepone in his blood. Almost immediately, the plant was shut down. Studies were released demonstrating Kepone's negative effects on neurological and reproductive systems, as well as the liver, skin, and vision. Meanwhile, analysis showed that Kepone was found throughout the James, in its sediment, and all over Hopewell.
Today, Hopewell and the James River have largely recovered from the Kepone scandal. The fishing bans have all been lifted and corrupted sediment has been covered by new sediment. The plant's toxic soil and residue were removed and buried in a salt mine.
1966–1975 - The Allied Chemical Corporation dumps Kepone, a toxic, nonbiodegradable insecticide, into Virginia's James River. Its effect on the environment is eventually publicized, leading authorities to shut down the Allied Chemical Corporation plant that produced the chemical and to order fishing bans and advisories.
July 24, 1975 - After employees of Hopewell's Life Sciences factory suffer from uncontrollable shivering and twitching, it is determined they have high levels of Kepone in their blood and Life Sciences voluntarily shuts down the factory.
December 1975 - As a result of the presence of the chemical Kepone, commercial and sport fishing are banned and a warning is issued to anyone who privately catches fish in the James River or any of its tributaries.
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First published: January 29, 2009 | Last modified: May 16, 2014