Google employees exposed to TCE

The Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, in this September 2, 2011 file photo. Press TV- by Tim King

We’ll never know how many veterans exposed to the chemical TCE (trichloroethylene) have died from cancer, but we know the number is very high, and also that many have battled cancer and survived.

The US government, the Dept. of the Navy in particular, has avoided admitting that TCE is a direct threat to the health of those who served on TCE-laden bases, except when forced.   

Now Google, of all companies, is doing the same thing. Employees from the Mountain View location say they have not been informed that they work in an area where deadly TCE is present. “Googleplex” buildings in Mountain View sit atop an EPA Superfund toxic waste site. The TCE contamination has been an ongoing issue with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for many years, and in February new heavily contaminated “hot spots” were discovered by the EPA in this section of Mountain View.

The “Googleplex” occupies space formerly used by computer chip makers which used TCE. The EPA states that during operations, “some of the chemicals leaked or were otherwise released to the ground, impacting soil and groundwater.”

According to SF Gate, “In 1981, TCE was discovered in the soil and groundwater beneath the three companies’ plants. The federal government designated the area as a Superfund site, and since 1989 more than 100,000 pounds of TCE and other contaminants has been removed.”

The EPA considers TCE levels over 5 parts per billion unsafe. The highest TCE levels measured by the EPA in groundwater in the area reached 130,000 parts per billion.

Employees reveal truth

Last weekend I attended the San Francisco Pride Parade. I knew that I’d be able to talk to some Google employes when their parade participants began showing up.

I learned what I feared most… that these young bright people working for Google in Mountain View, knew absolutely nothing about the TCE contamination. Those I spoke with were 100% in the dark, and shocked to learn that they are working in a dangerous environment that could cause such severe health problems.

Google did issue one statement after their TCE problem went public: “The health and safety of our employees is Google’s number one priority, and we take several proactive measures to ensure the healthiest indoor air environments possible.” However that news did not reach all of their Mountain View employees.

The buildings are in the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman (MEW) Superfund Study Area (or MEW Site). EPA says it is “comprised of three National Priorities List (NPL) or Superfund sites: Fairchild Semiconductor Corp. – Mountain View Superfund site; Raytheon Company Superfund site; and Intel Corp. – Mountain View Superfund site; several other facilities; and portions of the former Naval Air Station (NAS) Moffett Field Superfund site.”

The agency says the former facilities required the storage, handling, and use of a variety of chemicals, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

“The primary chemicals of concern at the MEW Site are trichloroethene (TCE) and its degradation products: cis-1,2-dichloroethene and vinyl chloride. During operations, some of the chemicals leaked or were otherwise released to the ground, impacting soil and groundwater.”

Residents of Mountain View, California are potentially exposed on a daily basis to the deadly nature of this chemical, and hundreds of thousands of US Navy Veterans who served at Moffet Field over the years were potentially exposed. The former Navy base is now called Moffett Federal Airfield. As it turns out, Moffett Field is one of the most toxic spots on the face of the earth when it comes to TCE contamination.

Media misses mark

The San Francisco CBS station published the statement in an article, “It takes decades of TCE exposure at elevated levels to cause medical problems, according to the EPA.”

Experts say that is patently false and that media misinformation benefits only the polluters and government, as both continually try to avoid the costs associated with these toxic sites. 

According to Dr. Phillip Leveque, an Oregon Professor of Pharmacology and Forensic Toxicologist, a janitor in the 1970’s used TCE to clean supermarket floors and died of liver failure in three weeks. Dr. Leveque offered expert testimony in the family’s wrongful death case. Dow Chemical lost and had to pay the man’s family. Therefore we can conclude that high levels of TCE exposure take only days, rather than “decades” as the EPA states, to harm or even kill.
I know about TCE because it is the primary contaminant at the now closed Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro, where I served in the 1980’s.

Since 2008, a team of former El Toro Marines and I have been working to expose the toxicity of this base which Lennar Homes Corporation wants to use as a home building site, and the place where the city of Irvine’s ‘Great Parks Corporation’ wants to build a park for children on contaminated soil.

We’ve been writing about TCE steadily and its affect on Marine bases, knowing all along that the Navy and other services also used this deadly chemical degreaser manufactured by Dow Chemical in far greater quantities. It turns out that Moffet Field has severely worse TCE contamination than even El Toro.

As reported Feb. 22 2013 by Daniel DeBolt with MV Voice, “Though regularly tested since 2003, in December Google’s new buildings at 369 and 379 Whisman Road were found for the first time to have TCE vapors above the Environmental Protection Agency’s indoor screening level, said Alana Lee, project manager for the EPA. The results were blamed on building modifications made for Google that created a pathways through the floor for the vapors to seep into parts of the buildings.”

Google was obviously aware of the danger because they have been testing for TCE intrusion since 2003. Simply said, they have known that they were subjecting their employees to TCE from the beginning, but they still used the contaminated site. Contaminated military real estate comes cheap. They can talk about wetlands and all of the wonderful appointments, but the Googleplex sits on the edge of Moffet’s toxic soup and it seems impossible from what we know about El Toro, that the entire region is not contaminated. This, in addition to the computer chip manufacturer’s TCE contamination.
Hiding Google’s toxicity

I looked at the Wikipedia page for the Googleplex, and there is not a single reference to the TCE problem, I find that strange. Information control seems to be in full swing for Google, in fact there is no reference to any toxicity at all, ironically the page brags that, “The shuttles are powered by a fuel blend of 95% petroleum diesel and 5% biodiesel, and have the latest emissions reduction technology”.

It doesn’t mean much to a person breathing in TCE for eight or more hours a day, trust me on that one. Of the three former El Toro Marines I work with closely reporting El Toro’s dangers; Robert O’Dowd, Roger Butow and John Uldrich, I am the only one who hasn’t battled and survived cancer. Two of my sons born while I lived in El Toro base housing, nearly died in their first six months; one from an enlarged epiglottis, and one from a collapsed bowel. One of my sons suffers today from intestinal colitis. The problems my boys survive are directly related to TCE contamination. Needless to say, in human beings it is a multi-generational type of contamination.

We know from our research at El Toro, and from US Navy documents, that a massive TCE “plume” flows from El Toro into (under) the city of Irvine, and I know of numerous cancer cases in Irvine that are not conclusively, but likely a result of the water contamination. Google has no way to adequately protect people from this hazard, it is flowing right beneath their feet, and Google is apparently relying on technology to shield employees from this deadly chemical.

Again from the Feb 22 2013 MV Voice article, “Over 1,000 Googlers moved into ‘the Quad’ near Whisman Road and Middlefield Road in June of 2012, an area once home to Fairchild and Intel, among others. Those companies used TCE (trichloroethylene) as a solvent in the manufacturing of the first silicon computer chips, leaving behind a massive plume of contaminated groundwater discovered in 1981 — one that may take many more decades to clean up.”

It didn’t take a year, but only months for this problem to blow up. While Google apparently hides from the story as much as possible, there are employees, who happen to be pregnant, who are aware of the contamination and have raised objections. Google has a problem it can’t hide from, the company needs to share information with its employees so they can make an informed choice about where they work. I know Google’s lawyers must be under a lot of pressure, they know the problem is very potent and that a large cost comes with truth and responsibility, but they have to act now and get people into a safe working environment, or the cost will be much higher.



Tim King specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide. His years as a Human Rights reporter have taken on many dimensions. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine. Tim is the news editor for and holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from traditional mainstream news agencies like The Associated Press and Electronic Media Association; he also holds awards from the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs; and the The Red Cross

2 thoughts on “Google employees exposed to TCE

  1. Google don’t mind. All these workers will be laid off and replaced by younger, foreign, cheaper workers before they start getting cancer.

    1. “Google don’t mind. All these workers will be laid off and replaced by younger, foreign, cheaper workers before they start getting cancer.”

      Yep you got that right. The harvard business model. Once employees get comfortable and earning benefits just replace them because “we can’t afford to pay health insurance”.

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