September 24, 2008, The Charleston Gazette
Bayer a good neighbor?
Following the Bhopal disaster, there has been more than 20 years' worth of effort put forth by our community members to regain trust in the valley's chemical industry. That effort and trust ended Sept. 4 when Bayer CropScience refused to attend an open forum hosted by us following the recent explosion in the company's Larvin unit.
The forum, hosted by our organization, People Concerned About MIC, was intended to generate a much needed constructive conversation among community members and plant and government officials in a timely manner. A Bayer media release dated Sept. 4 led us to believe that our attempt at communication was unimportant to their relations with our community because it was not part of their "already scheduled monthly meetings."
In the same release, Bayer claims to be "committed to active communication with their neighbors and community leaders." Nonetheless, Bayer officials remained noticeably quiet at a recent meeting initiated by the Kanawha County Commission. Additionally, nearly a month after the explosion, Bayer has yet to apologize to us face to face, refusing to communicate without the assistance of their facilitator and at a time and date of their choice. We ask, do all neighbors need facilitators to talk to one another?
Bayer's lack of communication with the community is now perceived by its neighbors as a blatant and unforgivable display of disrespect and lack of concern.
In the last two decades, our community members have educated themselves to be able to ask intelligent and critical questions not being asked by the governmental officials. We have served on advisory board after advisory board to ensure that the health and safety of our community was a crucial part of industry conversation and concern. Once again, we have found ourselves asking the questions preempting response by government officials, not the other way around.
Many questions remain unanswered by Bayer and by government officials. This time our community refuses to ask any more questions. This time our community will seek no less than justice for the terror lurking in our neighborhood.
Bayer would like to convince us that we are safe, yet thumbing their nose at community and government, they remain either unable or unwilling to answer the question, "What chemicals were released during the night of Aug. 28?" They still process résumés at the plant as if nothing has happened, and as if all of their workers are safe and among them.
We are appalled that our government allows this behavior. If Bayer is unable to tell us what chemicals escaped the night of Aug. 28, how can they possibly expect they will convince us we are safe? Even further, how can they convince us that they are good neighbors?
Maya Nye is a member of People Concerned About MIC.
November 18, 2008 The Charleston Gazette
Bayer's behavior doesn't reassure
Since the Aug. 28 explosion at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, many incidents involving the chemical industry have occurred that continue to concern Kanawha Valley residents about their safety.
WSAZ recently reported a September leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) that was dismissed by a Bayer spokesman as a "nonincident." Institute is the only place in the United States where this chemical is stockpiled in such large quantities. With the 24th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster drawing near (Dec. 3), and in light of recent events and Bayer's ill attempts at communicating with its neighbors, I have a hard time swallowing their PR line that "at no point was anyone in danger."
As if the premature loss of Bayer plant worker Barry Withrow wasn't enough to make us realize the dangers that exist in the Kanawha Valley, on Oct. 10, plant worker Bill Oxley died at a Pittsburgh burn center as a result of severe burns received during the August explosion. Compounding this tragic loss is the massive oversight in procedures.
At this point, Bayer admits to not clearly communicating on the night of the Larvin unit explosion. What they haven't yet admitted is how their refusal to provide such crucial details as the chemicals involved in the explosion could have seriously jeopardized Mr. Oxley's emergency care needs. In any burn situation where chemicals are a factor, knowing the chemicals involved play a significant role in the means of treatment since different chemicals react to different substances.
My jaw dropped when I heard Charleston Area Medical Center safety director C.W. Sigman confirm at a Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee meeting that Mr. Oxley was not decontaminated prior to leaving the Institute site the night of the explosion. This means that exposure to the chemicals from the explosion could have been passed along not only to Mr. Oxley, but also to the ambulance drivers, and the nurses, doctors and other people in the emergency room at CAMC where he was first taken.
These major procedural "hiccups" are inexcusable. Had the Bayer explosion warranted evacuation, many of the Institute community would have died at the gate heading off the evacuation route.
The day after Bill Oxley died, 2,500 residents near a Pennsylvania chemical plant were forced to evacuate due to a leak of oleum. According to CNN, three residents were injured due to this release. On Oct. 24, the same chemical was released at DuPont in Belle. This occurrence was only a little over a week after DuPont issued a shelter-in-place because of an anhydrous ammonia leak. If Belle has an evacuation route anything similar to Institute's, they might consider putting a gatekeeper on alert!
The explosion, two workers dead, ensuing toxic chemical leaks, illnesses in our communities, and the lack of compliance with procedures really bring home the dangers that exist in our back yard. I'll bet if these dangers were as close to the plant officials who live in South Hills as they were to the darker and lesser affluent people of Institute, St. Albans and Belle, the dangers would be drastically less, if not nonexistent.
I noticed in Sunday's paper that Bayer is hiring. They tout their competitive benefit package and salary. Anyone interested in applying for this nonunionized position might want to reflect on the recent losses and reconsider who's looking out for their health and safety. Legislators might consider the grave importance of the Employee Free Choice Act, contrary to what Hoppy Kercheval might say.
Nye is the spokeswoman for People Concerned About MIC.