September 4, 2008 The Pump Handle 4Comment

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette has been following closely and reporting on the deadly blast on Aug 28 at the multinational Bayer CropScience’s plant in Institute, WV.  His first story (here) indicated that witnesses saw a red fireball at about 10:25 pm, and that thousands of residents were told to shelter in place, and his next story reported on the plant’s rocky safety record.  Mr. Barry Withrow, 45, who was killed in the blast was buried on Sept 1.  This small WV town is well known in public health circles because of its notorious connection to Bhopal, India and that city’s experience with a deadly MIC release in 1984 at a Union Carbide plant which killed 3,000 and maimed thousands more.

Ken Ward’s continuing investigation offers extremely disturbing news today, with the Charleston Gazette’s headline reading: Bayer withheld details of blast in 911 calls.  He writes:

“Bayer CropScience officials repeatedly refused to give local emergency responders details about last week’s explosion and fire, according to recordings of phone calls between the company’s Institute plant and Kanawha County’s Metro 911 Center.  Plant officials told dispatchers that there was an ’emergency’ in progress, but said the company instructed them not to provide more details.”

Ward uses excerpts from the powerful 911 phone call tapes, which the Gazette has posted on its website, to share the chain of events.  For example:

“‘Well, I can’t give out any information, like I say, we’ll contact you with the, with the proper information,’ a plant gate worker who identified himself only as Steve told a 911 dispatcher.  That comment came when emergency responders called the plant at 10:39 p.m., about 14 minutes after Bayer said the explosion occurred on Aug. 28.”

“Dale Petry, Kanawha County’s emergency director, said that local responders weren’t sure what to do, because Bayer gave them precious little information for several hours after the explosion. ‘We didn’t know what to do. ‘We couldn’t get anything out of them. We want to protect the community and we need more information to do that.”

During the first 911 call last week, the dispatcher asked what had occurred, and the plant worker said, ‘Well, I haven’t got instructions as to what to tell everybody yet.’

I guarantee your jaw will drop when you read Ken Ward’s full story.

The worker who was killed in the Aug 28 blast, Mr. Barry Withrow, 45, was remembered as a beloved husband to Mikeal Withrow and a “devoted father of his two greatest earthly treasures, Shelby, 17, and Madison, 11, whom he adored and spoke of constantly.”  He earned a chemistry degree from the West Virginia State University , and worked for the chemical plant in Institute, WV for 25 years.  His obituary mentions that he served on the plant’s emergency response team, he was an EMT, and “will long be remembered by his fellow Bayer employees as one who did whatever task was asked of him.”

A second worker was seriously injured in the explosion and being treated in a Pittsburgh hospital.

4 thoughts on “To 911 operator: “I’m only allowed to tell you we have an emergency”

  1. That is beyond disgraceful. They’re not only putting their own workers at risk (as if that weren’t enough!), but they also risk the health and safety of people in the communities near their facility. What if there had been a major chemical release? Is there any legal remedy against companies who withhold potentially vital information from local authorities?

  2. All I want to say is that the blog is quite a bit too shocking, If I were a 911 operator and I received a phone call like that I would be pretty nervous for the individuals, but I’ll tell u waht, It most definitely makes the 911 act quicker because they have to look at the worst possible case scenario.

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