|Nyanza Color & Chemical Co. Plant in Ashland, Massachusetts
American Dyestuff Reporter 1950
Nyanza Color & Chemical Co., Inc. was the last of a series of companies that operated a plant manufacturing dyes, intermediates and textile chemicals in Ashland, Massachusetts. The hilly 35-acre site is only a quarter-mile from
the center of Ashland and 22 miles southwest of Boston.
The site was first occupied in 1917 by the United States Color & Chemical Co., which also had an office and a warehouse in Boston. The founders were Carl P. Waldinger and John O' Day. Waldinger came to the U.S. in 1897 from
Germany and became a naturalized citizen in 1910. During World War I, dyes could no longer be imported from Germany, and many companies set up manufacturing facilities. The Northeast was a popular location due to the
availability of raw materials, skilled labor and close proximity to customers in the textile, paper and leather industries. The Atlantic Dyestuff Company, with offices in Boston and a plant in Newington, New Hampshire, was
established about the same time as United States Color & Chemical.
Dr. Edward S. Johnson, formerly with the Semet-Solvay Co., organized the laboratory of the United States Color & Chemical Co. in 1919. Dr. Johnson had considerable experience in manufacturing the chemical intermediates
needed for dye production. Chemist Ralph E. Montonna was superintendent of the oxazine dye department.
Ernest Patz, a Prussian who emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s, established the dye sales agency Nyanza Color & Chemical Co. in 1919. The company, which had an office at 109 Worth Street in New York City, was named after
Lake Nyanza in Africa. This is better known as Lake Victoria, the headwaters of the Nile.
In 1926 Waldinger formed the U.S. Chemical & Dye Corporation with the Ashland plant as its largest producer. This company merged with Nyanza Color & Chemical Co. in 1930. At the same time the Chemical Manufacturing Co. was
setup by Waldinger and Thomas O'Neil to operate the Ashland plant. In addition to selling the Ashland products, Nyanza also represented the New Brunswick Chemical Co. of Newark, NJ. Nyanza added sales offices in Philadelphia,
Charlotte, Chicago and Portland, Oregon.
In 1953 Nyanza acquired the dyestuff and textile chemical business of Commonwealth Color and Chemical Co., which had closed its plant in New York City. Many of the administrative, technical and sales staff of Commonwealth
Color transferred to Nyanza.
The product line in 1957, consisting of various dyes and textile chemicals, is listed in the trade ad below:
Roland E. Derby Sr. (1900-1966), a textile industry chemist, inventor and consultant, purchased a 50 percent share of Nyanza from the Waldinger family in 1959. He had established the Derby Co., Inc. and the Textile Chemical and
Color Co. in 1940 in Lawrence, MA. The Textile Chemical and Color Co. was a selling agent of dyes and chemicals from other companies The Derby Co. was a consulting firm staffed with chemists conducting industrial research in
the textile, paper, leather and related fields. Derby was also president of the Lowell Technological Research Foundation. In 1953 he received the prestigious Olney Medal award from the American Association of Textile Chemists
and Colorists (AATCC) for his contributions to the textile industry. Derby held patents covering processing in the woolens industry and had an excellent reputation for solving technical problems of his clients. He was a pilot and
generally flew to his client’s location, sometimes buzzing the textile mill to announce his arrival. He was an avid fly fisherman and game hunter with a camp on Great Lake in Maine. In 1962 Derby and his passengers survived a
crash of his private seaplane while taking off from Great Lake.
His son, Roland E. Derby Jr. (1925-1978), a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, held a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a master's in textile chemistry from Lowell Technological
Institute and a doctorate in fibrous high polymers from MIT. He was a Sergeant in WW II and was wounded seriously in the leg during a night patrol in 1945. He would later become president of the Derby Co. Derby Jr. was an expert
in color science and authored technical papers on the subject. He was recognized for bringing practical applications of color theory to the textile industry and for the application of color technology to quality control and color
matching. He was honored in 1980 as the recipient of the Olney Medal for achievement in textile chemistry. Derby Jr. was only 52 years old when he died in 1978.
In 1965 the Derby family acquired the remaining shares of Nyanza and consolidated various companies under it. In 1967 Nyanza produced 76 different types of dyes, including azo and anthraquinone, and 48 dye intermediates. The
company was a niche player in the dyes market with an estimated share of 1-2 percent. The raw materials utilized include acids, bases, aniline, chlorinated benzenes, nitrobenzene, benzidine, 1-naphthylamine, 2-naphthylamine, o-
dianisidine, p-cresidine, o-tolidine, phosgene, cobalt, chromium, mercury, benzoic acid, dichloroaniline, nitroaniline, phenol, bromine, and acrylate monomers. Prior owners of the site used many of the same raw materials.
In September 1966 Roland E. Derby, Jr., then president of Nyanza, testified at the Tariff Commission hearings in Washington, D.C. He contended that "a 50 percent reduction in duties either under the ASP (American Selling Price)
method or the new converted rates would most probably eliminate our operation." Dr. Derby said his plant employed 100 people, with an annual payroll of $600,000. He reported "Our sales average about $3 million a year with an
average net return of about 5 percent. In the last five years, we have invested roughly one million dollars in an expansion program". At the time Nyanza had about a one percent share of the US dye market.
Over the years, the site experienced numerous incidents of fires, explosions, toxic releases and odor complaints from neighbors. On a least one occasion it snowed blue in Ashland. Nyanza operated the site until 1978, when the
company went out of business due to financial problems. By this time even large dye producers were having profit problems; Allied-Chemical and GAF quit the business and were soon followed by DuPont and American Cyanamid.
American dye producers found it difficult to compete after tariffs on imports were lowered and large investments were needed to comply with stringent new EPA regulations.
The site was first identified as a hazard in 1971 when pollution was found in the nearby Sudbury River, once considered as a potential source of drinking water for the Boston area. In 1982 the site was put on the Superfund National
Priority List. Over 45,000 tons of chemical sludges had been generated by the waste water treatment processes. On-site soils, surface water, and groundwater were contaminated with heavy metals and chlorinated organics.
Liquid wastes fouled nearby brooks and wetlands. Mercury-laden particles may have been blown into the air from exposed sludges. Mercuric sulfate catalyst had been used for many years to produce anthraquinone-1-sulfonic
acid, an important intermediate for many vat dyes.
The cleanup took almost 20 years and cost taxpayers around $55 million. In 1997 the EPA billed the estates of former executives of Nyanza with the response costs for the cleanup.
The site is now one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land within a community in eastern Massachusetts. A private developer is considering several options for reuse of portions of the property, including a golf course.
In April 2006 the State Department of Public Health released a seven-year study linking a disturbingly high number of cancer cases to exposure to hazardous chemicals at the site. The study found that people who grew up in the
town of 15,000 between the late 1960's and the early 80's and swam in the contaminated ponds were two to three times more likely to develop cancer than those who had no contact with the water. The cancer rate was nearly four
times greater among those with cancer in their families who also swam or waded in the contaminated wetlands near the Nyanza plant.
Investigators interviewed 1,387 present and former Ashland residents who were aged 10 to 18 years old during the period of 1965 through 1985. The study uncovered 73 cases of cancer and eight cancer-related deaths. About two
thirds of those diagnosed were under 35 and many of their cases involved rare forms of the disease.
Click here for Ashland Nyanza Health Study Final Report.
Click here for Video News on EPA site contamination study.
1) "Johnson Quits As Chemist Of Semet-Solvay", The Syracuse Herald, March 7, 1919
2) "Dr. R. E. Montonna Named Head Of SU Research Institute", The Post Standard (Syracuse, NY), September 22, 1946
3) "Set Up Research Foundation at Lowell Textile", The Nashua (NH) Telegraph, May 16, 1951
4) "Commonwealth Discontinues Dyestuff and Textile Chemical Manufacturing", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 42, No. 9, April 27, 1953, p. 279
5) "Olney Medal to be Awarded to Roland E. Derby", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 42, No. 18, August 31, 1953
6) "Tyngsboro Flier Unhurt as Plane Crashes in Maine", Lowell (MA) Sun, July 17, 1962
7) "Derby and Nyanza Elect", The New York Times, February 21, 1967
8) Nyanza Color and Chemical Company Ad, American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 39, No. 23, November 13, 1950, p. XIV
9) Matthew L. Wald, "Toxic Waste Site: Cleanup Outlook", The New York Times, December 23, 1986
10) Linda Goodspeed, "Contaminated Properties Show Development Potential", Boston Business Journal, December 14, 2000
11) "NPL Site Narrative for Nyanza Chemical Waste Dump", Federal Register Notice, September 8, 1983
12) "Public Health Assessment, Nyanza Chemical Waste Dump, Ashland, Middlesex County, Massachusetts", http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/nyanza/ncw_p1.html; website accessed November 17, 2005
13) Leander Ricard, personal communication, November 2005
14) Boston Herald website: http://news.bostonherald.com/galleries/images/982619_Picture15.jpg; accessed April 26, 2006
15) "Dye Makers Fear Tariff Changes", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 55, No. 21, October 10, 1966, p. 81
16) "Notice of Lodging of Consent Decree Pursuant To The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, As Amended", Federal Register: October 15, 1997 (Volume 62, Number 199)
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Mr. Leander Ricard for his contributions to this history.
|View Looking East of Remediated and
Restored Eastern Wetlands at Nyanza Site
Photo: EPA, 2001. Click to Enlarge
|Nyanza Color & Chemical Company
|Nyanza Color & Chemical Co. Trade Ad
American Dyestuff Reporter 1957
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|Ad in Mill News, October 14, 1920
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