Hayes-Sammons Cancer Cluster

By: Amy M. Hay

Type: General Entry

Published: August 11, 2021

Updated: August 11, 2021


Founded in 1907 by Albert Sammons as a supply depot business in Mission, Texas, Hayes-Sammons began selling tools and supplies to local crews building the Rio Grande Valley’s canal irrigation system. By 1912 Albert’s brother, Thomas Sammons, Sr., established with Ted Hayes, the Hayes-Sammons Hardware Company. The men built several hardware stores in the Rio Grande Valley, and the company expanded its inventory to serve the local South Texas agricultural sector, composed of citrus and vegetable crops. This included insecticides, which the company started carrying in 1918 and by 1933 was selling its own brand. In the early 1940s Sammons, son Thomas Jr., and son-in-law Clay Brazeal bought out Hayes but kept the name. The company initially sold to area growers, then to farmers upstate, and finally to Mexican agrarians.

In 1951 the company changed its name to the Hayes-Sammons Chemical Company, and by 1956 Hayes-Sammons was exporting pesticides and other chemical products throughout Central and South America and overseas to several Middle Eastern countries. In 1966 Brazeal bought out the chemical business, while the Sammons family retained the hardware portion, and Hayes-Sammons Chemical Company became Mission Chemical Company. After Brazeal declared bankruptcy in 1968, he established Tex-Ag Company and continued to manufacture chemical products and hired many former Hayes-Sammons workers. In 1969 the Hayes-Sammons chemical mixing facility, located on Holland Avenue in Mission, was purchased by Helena Chemical Company and continued operations until 1972. Tex-Ag manufactured chemicals until 1996 when it was bought by a California chemical company, Wilbur-Ellis Company. Residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the various chemical plants and warehouses voiced concerns about area contamination and public health in the late 1970s and brought a lawsuit against the company in 1999.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Hayes-Sammons Chemical plant in south Mission offered Mexican immigrants an opportunity to get better paying industrial jobs versus the more demanding, and less lucrative, jobs provided in agriculture. With no protective clothing, these workers routinely handled chemical products while the plant expelled chemicals from vents in the facility to the outside neighborhood and left mounds of uncontained chemicals accessible to local children. These piles also spread chemicals throughout the community as rain runoff. In 1979 the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated a resident’s complaint. Its findings led it to sue the Tex-Ag Company and the Helena Chemical Company to clean up their chemical manufacturing sites. The EPA and Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) pursued cleanup efforts for two sites during the next several years and claimed success in 1998.

Residents in the blocks surrounding the chemical plants and warehouses experienced cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, and numerous unnamed illnesses. In 1999 approximately 2,500 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Hayes-Sammons and twenty-seven other defendants. They charged that the illnesses were caused by the contamination resulting from the almost fifty years of chemical manufacturing and storage conducted by Hayes-Sammons and other chemical companies that had located there. Prompted by the TNRCC’s action to remove the sites (which included a warehouse, the chemical mixing plant, and a site known as the Muñoz Borrow Pits where chemicals had been stored, mixed, shipped, and, allegedly, dumped) from the Superfund list, residents also condemned the EPA and Texas agencies and accused them of failing to properly clean up the area’s contamination. Residents’ efforts to get the area remediated became mired in bureaucratic and legal struggles in the early 2000s, although the EPA restored the site to the Superfund list as a high priority in 2007. In October 2009 the residents’ lawsuit went to trial with a $4.2 million settlement offer just months later, a settlement to be shared among 1,800 people. The Hayes-Sammons site continued to be listed as a Superfund site as of 2019.

McAllen Monitor, May 25, 1951; July 15, 1951; March 9, 1956; January 20, 21, 22, 2002; October 12, 2006; October 27, 2009; December 4, 2009.

Categories:

  • Agriculture
  • Diseases and Pests
  • Health and Medicine
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans

Time Periods:

  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century

Places:

  • South Texas
  • Valley Area

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Amy M. Hay, “Hayes-Sammons Cancer Cluster,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 08, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hayes-sammons-cancer-cluster.

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August 11, 2021
August 11, 2021

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