PENNSVILLE, N.J. -- Three members of an environmental activist group scaled a water tower on the grounds of a Du Pont Co. plant Tuesday and unfurled a banner proclaiming the chemical industry giant the leading destroyer of the Earth's protective ozone layer.
The three members of Greenpeace -- Laura Rubin, 24; James Moffit, 28; and Ingrid Gordon, 25, all of Washington, D.C. -- began their climb up the 180-foot tower at the plant in Salem County at 2:30 a.m., said Erik Johnson, a Greenpeace spokesman.
'There was a hole in the fence (around the plant) and they just walked right on' to company property, he said. 'We have had ideas of doing something at Du Pont for some time and this is right across the river from Wilmington, Del., where they have their headquarters.'
The climbers plan to spend as many as three days living on the water tower to demonstrate their oppostion to Du Pont, Johnson said.
The three 'have climbing gear and safety gear and supplies,' he said. 'They have also locked the ladder cage so no one can come up after them,' he said.
The three also unfurled a 65-foot banner that displayed the company's logo and the words 'No. 1 ozone destroyer.'
Dick Stewart, the manager of the Chambers Works plant, said he has no intention of sending anyone up the tower after the protesters.
'We asssume they got up there on their own. They can come down on their own,' he said.
No decision has been made on taking legal action against the trio or the group, he said.
'I have not made up my mind about what our options are when they come down,' he said. 'The means they used to gain access to our property were illegal and they are defacing our property with the banner.'
Du Pont is a leading producer of chloroflurocarbons, or CFCs, making 85,000 tons a year at the Chambers Works plant.
The chemicals are used in various applications, including refrigeration, propellants in aerosol cans and production of foam containters.
Scientists believe that when the chemicals escape into the air, the CFCs react with sunlight to destroy ozone molecules in the upper atmosphere. Ozone acts as a protective layer to screen out excess amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Without the ozone layer, scientists believe there would be a rise in skin cancer and harm to plants in the human food chain.
Du Pont has pledged to eliminate its production of CFCs by the year 2000, but Greenpeace claims the company's proposed solutions will be worse than the current dilemma.
The group says the company's deadline allows for production of the chemicals for too long a period. Of the two chemicals Du Pont wants to substitute for CFCs on an interim basis, one is highly toxic and the other produces a by-product that acts like a CFC, Johnson said.