Sustained Outrage

Bayer: Marginalizing chemical plant safety?

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On its Web site, the public relations firm Ann Green Communications says its services enable clients to “build open and honest relationships with stakeholders through effective communication strategies.”

Folks in the Kanawha Valley are probably wondering exactly how Ann Green’s recommendations to Bayer CropScience were going to do that.

anngreensm.jpgRecall that documents made public this week by a congressional committee included pr firm President Ann Green’s advice for Bayer  in dealing with the valley after the August 2008 explosion that killed two Institute plant workers and forced thousands of residents to take shelter in their homes.

I’m not going to dwell on Green’s suggestions that Bayer should try to “marginalize” The Charleston Gazette. You can read them for yourselves here.  This newspaper has big shoulders, and we can take whatever criticism Green and her clients at Bayer want to offer.

But what about the rest of Green’s recommendations?

maya.jpgWell, there’s the nasty comments about Maya Nye, a valley native who has decided to try to get the local group People Concerned About MIC up and running again:

The old ‘People Concerned About MIC’ activist group, established in the aftermath of Bhopal, has been reactivated with an ominous new leader, Maya Nye (Does she look that ominous? Seriously). Ms. Nye is the daughter of a Union Carbide retriee and appears to have animosity toward the chemical industry. She has taken an adversarial approach from the beginning and is not retreating.

Older and more cooperative past leaders of the group (Mildred Holt, a retired teacher, and Pam Nixon, currently the Citizen Advocate for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection) have chosen to take a back seat to the more aggressive new leadership. Ms. Nye promises to bring in outside agitators — something the older leaders had, heretofore, not been willing to do. Ms. Nye also has stated publicly she intends to campaign for the removal of MIC and phosgene from the site.

Well, to clear up the record a little bit.  Shortly after the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and fire, Maya invited Bayer officials to take part in a public  meeting about the incident. Bayer refused. Then, the company held its own public meeting, one that was carefully controlled by folks from Ann Green Communications.

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At Thursday night’s U.S. Chemical Safety Board meeting, local activist Jim Lewis told Bayer plant manager Nick Crosby (above, center) that the company wasn’t doing itself any favors with this kind of PR strategy:

Mr. Crosby said he wants dialogue with the community. If you want dialogue with the community, don’t pit us against one another. To pit Maya Nye against Mildred Holt is not right. That’s no way to create dialogue in this community.

I asked Crosby after the meeting if he had apologized to Maya Nye for this PR firm’s comments. He said he hadn’t. But Crosby did say:

“We are going to reach out to Ms. Nye and try to develop a relationship with her organization.”

Crosby added:

I’ve got absolutely no desire to marginalize anybody representing any of the people in this community. My desire is to work with all of the community representatives.

OK, then. When’s the next People Concerned About MIC meeting? We assume Nick Crosby will be there, right?

As for Maya Nye, she seems to be able to speak pretty well for herself, so here’s part of what she had to say at Thursday night’s CSB meeting:

I was a child when PCMIC was formed in the mid-1980s. I barely remember the Bhopal disaster, and I vaguely remember evacuating when the incident occurred eight months later in Institute that sent more than 100 people to the hospital. But I clearly remember the 1993 explosion near the MIC tank that killed two workers and sent many people to the hospital.

Sitting in my living room about a crow’s mile away from the plant, I felt a loud boom. I thought a tree limb must have fallen on our house until the fire truck went backwards down my one-way street announcing that a shelter-in-place was in effect and to close all doors, windows and turn off all air conditioners until further notice. Panicked, I called my father, a Union Carbide employee, to ask him if he knew what happened and what to do.

With no information, he told me to hang tight. It wasn’t until after I hung up the phone that the smell invaded my house. I called my father again, only this time I couldn’t get through. The phone lines were jammed as too many people were looking for information at the same time.

Frantically, I grabbed some duct tape and started taping up the cracks around the door and windows as they had taught us to do in school after the Bhopal disaster. It didn’t much work. Too many windows, too little time.

The smell had already invaded my house.  So with a wet wash rag to my face, I sat with my dog, crying, hoping that my last phone call to my father wouldn’t really be the last.