Dial Pulling Plug on Purex Bleach at Southland Factory

Times Staff Writer

Dial Corp. said Wednesday that it will end production of household liquid chlorine bleach at its Purex factory in South Gate and will lay off nearly half of the plant's 275 employees by the end of September.

Citing "existing business and environmental problems," Dial said it would lay off 100 hourly and 20 salaried employees. The workers include production, clerical and management employees, said Nancy Dedera, spokeswoman for the Phoenix-based company.

Household liquid bleach accounts for nearly half the production at the aging plant, which was Purex's first factory. The company was founded in 1922 by Lionel S. Precourt and his family, who made household bleach in the garage of their Los Angeles home.

"This is the original plant," Dedera said. "It went from the garage to this facility."

And that is the problem with the factory, which also manufactures dish and laundry detergents, fabric softener, ammonia and plastic bottles, she said.

"The bleach business is a very competitive business and our competitors have state of the art equipment and we don't," Dedera said. "We need a period of study to see if it would be profitable for us to bring ours to this level. Our study to this point indicates that it would not."

In addition, aging equipment has contributed to environmental problems at the factory, she said.

A pipeline ruptured at the factory in February, 1986, and caused a chlorine gas leak. A nearby elementary school had to be evacuated and about 70 people were sent to the hospital.

Because of the accident, the company has paid nearly $1 million in damages resulting from civil litigation and faces numerous fines, Dedera said. "In the current environment, we felt we couldn't continue to operate," she said.

But one union official accused Dial of using Purex "as a writeoff."

Alex Sweeten, president of United Auto Workers, Local 509, said Dial has closed several Purex factories since it purchased the Purex consumer products division in March, 1985.

"That plant's been there for 50 years. Purex has been a household name since before I was born," said Sweeten, whose union local represents nearly 200 workers at the factory. "They never had a problem with chlorine bleach till Dial bought Purex and brought in all these new supervisors who didn't know anything about the business."

The company is studying the possibility of producing other Dial products at the plant if it decides not to resume bleach production, she said. In the meantime, the company will contract to produce the bleach at a factory in the City of Commerce owned by Grow Group, a New York-based manufacturer of paints, specialty chemical coatings and private label household products. In addition, other of Dial's 20 plants manufacture bleach.

Workers were informed of the impending layoffs on Monday, Dedera said.

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