April 23, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

There are plenty of tragedies in this story about a plant manager sentenced to almost 6 years in prison for criminal conspiracy, covering up safety violations that killed a fork lift worker, and polluting the Delaware River. Fifty-nine year old John Prisque worked for Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Co., a company that two years ago was convicted of 32 of 34 charges of polluting the Delaware with oil (its garbage caused an eight and half mile oil slick in 1999).

Prisque, who was the manager of the Phillipsburg plant, was convicted of making false statements to federal investigators after three accidents at the plant, including the forklift fatality. In another incident, a worker lost three fingers in a cement mixer, and in the third accident, a worker lost an eye when a saw blade broke. (Mary Fuchs, NJ.com)

The dead and injured workers are tragedies, for sure. Priscone wasn’t directly responsible for their deaths, but he was a vital part of controlling a workplace that helped make them happen. That’s reason enough to hold him accountable, and since he also obstructed justice, the jail sentence seems quite appropriate. But it’s also a tragedy for Prisque and his family:

In making her decision, U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper considered a more lenient sentence because of Prisque’s service as an Army paratrooper in the Vietnam War, his wife’s medical condition that prevents her from working full-time, and his daughter’s developmental disabilities that require an around the clock caregiver.

As much as I want to feel hard hearted toward him, in truth I find it difficult. The same impulse that makes what happened to the workers gut wrenching, also makes Prisque’s fate painful to contemplate. That’s just me, maybe. But however you feel, we shouldn’t forget the real bad guys behind the curtain. Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Co. was owned by McWane, International, a company convicted of environmental crimes in Utah, Texas and Alabama. This from a PBS Frontline program:

In 1995, McWane subsidiary Ransom Industries bought Tyler Pipe Company in Tyler, Texas. Federal officials say that since its purchase by McWane, Tyler Pipe has stood out as a repetitive violator of safety rules. In this report, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, federal inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) detail conditions at the plant, including scarred and disfigured workers, puddles of molten metal on the floor, and poorly lit work areas. (Frontline)

The Frontline website has some of the OSHA inspection from 1995. Some excerpts:

Tyler Pipe Company Inspection #: 300556420Tyler Pipe has a long history of OSHA complaint and comprehensive inspections with serious and other than serious violations. In the past ten years, 38 citations have been issued for 10 inspections at the Tyler Tx facility, and 28 citations have been issued for 3 inspections at the Allentown PA facility. The citations have included several repeat issues, although each time the citations were more than three years apart and could not be issued as repeat. These included guarding, emergency planning and egress, hazard communication and working surfaces.


If anyone deserves to be in jail it’s the Managers and Directors of McWane. They should be easy to find. McWane makes sewer pipes. They’re probably using them for a home.

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