Sustained Outrage

OSHA cites DuPont in fatal phosgene leak

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Federal workplace safety regulators have cited DuPont Co. with multiple serious safety violations and fined the company $43,000 in response to the January phosgene leak that killed a worker at the Belle plant.

According to a news release issued by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

As a result of the investigation, OSHA has cited DuPont with six serious violations including the company’s failure to properly inspect piping used to transfer phosgene, perform a thorough process hazard analysis for its phosgene operation, train workers on hazards associated with phosgene, thoroughly inspect all high-risk sections of piping used to transfer oleum, and properly install energized electrical conductors. OSHA issues a serious citation when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard the employer knew or should have known about.

The company was also cited for five other-than-serious violations due to improper recordkeeping.

Assistant labor secretary for OSHA David Michaels said:

OSHA’s process safety management standard requires that companies anticipate the possible hazards associated with processes involving highly hazardous chemicals like phosgene and oleum. Workers are left vulnerable to life-threatening or permanent injuries and illness when these processes are not done in a thorough and comprehensive way.

I’ve posted the OSHA citations here.


In response to a letter last week from Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, the new chairman of the federal Chemical Safety Board is coming to Charleston next week to discuss his agency’s investigation of the August 2008 explosion and fire at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.

Obama appointee Rafael Moure-Eraso hopes to meet with Carper and with representatives of  the community group People Concerned About MIC. Moure-Eraso also plans to meet with officials from the Bayer plant.

In an interview this afternoon, Moure-Eraso told me:

We want to let the people of the valley know we are concerned about these issues … I want to meet with Mr. Carper and explain to him what we are doing and where we are in the process.

Moure-Eraso said board members and staff are circulating a draft version of the agency’s final report on the explosion and that a final version would be made public at a meeting in the Kanawha Valley sometime this fall.


Secret meetings, July 16, 2010

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We’ll take a look today at two week’s worth of State Register open meetings reports, to make up for missing last week.

Last week, the State Register listed only one meeting that violated the public notice requirements of the West Virginia open meetings law. The agency involved was the Raleigh County Public Defender Corp.

This week, the State Register listed two meetings — by Appalachian EMS Inc. and the 11th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Corp. — that violated the public notice provisions.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Photo by Tom Hindman, Charleston Daily Mail, via AP.

Next month, it will be two years since a huge explosion and fire ripped through the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va., killing workers Barry Withrow and Bill Oxley.

And it’s already been more than a year since the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued its draft findings and delivered frightening testimony to a Congressional committee, warning that the Aug. 28, 2008, incident could have been worse than Bhopal.

But the people of the Kanawha Valley still haven’t seen a final report from the CSB — and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper is none too happy about that. In a short but stern letter this week, Carper demanded that new CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso keep his agency’s commitments to the people of this area:

Uncertainty and fear understandably ran rampant that evening and many, many questions are yet to be answered. Such answers are due and owed to the families and surrounding community.

I am gravely concerned that we are fast approaching the two-year anniversary of this tragic and avoidable incident. Despite assurances and promises made by the CSB, no opinions, final conclusions, or the promise to meet with the people have yet to take place. I am respectfully requesting that the CSB keep their promises.

With all due respect, the families and the people in the community deserve better.

Another Thursday, another installment of stories we admired this week.

Oregon spends about $700 million a year on mental health, but some are questioning whether it could be spent more efficiently, the Oregonian reported. “Oregonians with well-controlled mental illness generally can find routine care. But once they grow too sick to keep appointments, the health system offers little support until they explode into crisis and threaten themselves or others,” the article notes. Much of the funds are spent treating patients in crisis, either in hospitals or jails, rather than keeping them from reaching that point, health experts say.

Back in 1999, drug company SmithKline Beecham had indications that its new diabetes medicine Avandia may not be as safe for the heart as Actos, made by a competitor. SmithKline Beecham did not share this information with the public or with federal regulators, according to this article in the New York Times.

After two years of federal investigation, six New Orleans police officers were indicted Monday, four on charges that they shot unarmed civilians on Danziger Bridge following Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. All six are accused of participating in a massive coverup following the shootings that allegedly included “manufactured witnesses, fabricated statements by police, the planting of a gun and lies by officers questioned by the FBI.” The first inquiry into the controversial events on the bridge, conducted by police, resulted in no charges filed against the officers.

Drug use and pregnant teens

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A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration highlights some interesting trends among pregnant teenagers who seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. The report compared admissions from 1992 and 2007, and boy, has a lot changed over 15 years.

First of all, the demographics have shifted. In 1992, 54.5 percent of the pregnant teens admitted for treatment were white, 24 percent were black, and 15.7 percent were Hispanic. By 2007, those percentages were 50.3, 14.7 and 21.4, respectively.

The real eye-opening figures are in the primary substance abused. (A solid majority of pregnant teens admitted to treatment programs reported abusing multiple substances: 60.6 percent in 1992 and 62.5 percent in 2007). Alcohol, by far the dominant substance in 1992 at 44.1 percent, dropped to 20.3 percent in 2007. It was largely supplanted by marijuana, which jumped from 19.3 percent to 45.9 percent. Cocaine (20.2 percent to 6.8 percent) and heroin (4.5 percent to 3.1 percent) trended downwards. But the percentage of pregnant teens abusing methamphetamine more than quadrupled, from 4.3 percent in 1992 to 18.8 percent in 2007.

I also find it interesting that fewer teens are self-reporting (28.5 percent to 17.2 percent), or being referred by alcohol/drug abuse care providers (11.9 percent to 7.6 percent) other health care providers (15.1 percent to 4.7 percent) and schools (6.8 percent to 4.1 percent). Instead, many more are getting caught up in the criminal justice system (21.6 percent in 1992 to 43.3 percent in 2007).

Here’s the conclusion reached by the report:

First, the increased proportion of Hispanic pregnant teen admissions indicates a need for culturally sensitive substance abuse prevention and intervention programs, including culturally appropriate messaging, outreach, and engagement. Second, the quadruple increase in primary methamphetamine abuse highlights the need for educating teachers, primary care physicians, and obstetric and gynecologic specialists about the increased use among pregnant teens, especially in areas where methamphetamine abuse is a large problem or emerging concern, so they can provide the screening, counseling, and interventions necessary to help ensure the delivery of a full-term, healthy infant and the long-term health and well-being of the mother.

The long reach of childhood poverty

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A new report by the Urban Institute is a depressing reminder about how devastating — and far-reaching — the effects of childhood poverty can be. The study, Childhood Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences, examines the relationship between poverty status at birth, the amount of time spent in poverty as a child (under the age of 18) and “subsequent adult outcomes.”

The results may seem obvious, but the numbers are startling nonetheless. More than one in three, or 37 percent, of children experience poverty at some point, and 10 percent spend at least half of their childhoods living in poverty. Being born poor is also a strong indicator of future poverty: between 40 and 60 percent of children born into poverty remain poor throughout their entire childhoods.

Generally speaking, the more time a child lives in poverty, the more likely they are to be poor as adults and to have a child out of wedlock as a teenager, and the less likely they are to graduate from high school and stay consistently employed as an adult. For children who spend 9 years or more of their childhood in poverty: 32 percent are poor for more than half of their adult years; 23 percent fail to earn a high school diploma; 43 percent will have a child out of wedlock as a teen; and only 34 percent of men and 28 percent of women will maintain consistent employment.

The study concludes:

Some children appear resilient to childhood poverty and are able to avoid negative outcomes. Understanding the characteristics and experiences of persistently poor children who successfully transition to adulthood would provide important information about what persistently poor children need and what can help them become successful adults. As it stands, however, too few children born into poverty manage to escape its ill effects, and more can be done to both lift children and their families out of poverty today and to help poor children achieve better outcomes as adult.

The poverty rate in America is 13.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In West Virginia, the rate is 17.2 percent, and recent figures indicate that 23.9 percent of West Virginia’s children live in poverty.

What we’re reading: Literary edition

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Here’s our weekly look at stories that grabbed our attention, with a decidedly literary bent this week:

We’re usually a little less theoretical on this blog, but if you haven’t read it yet, a New York Times commentary “Byrd and the Bard” is really worth a look: “While Robert Byrd’s love of Shakespeare did not necessarily make him a better man or a better leader, his rich understanding of the greatest writer in the English language did represent a last link to a politics based on text, and to the humanist tradition,” writes Esquire columnist Stephen Marche.

It’s not everyday that we get to read a new work by Mark Twain, but PBS NewsHour debuted a previously unpublished essay from one of America’s most celebrated writers. The essay, “Concerning the ‘Interview,'” offers a fascinating window into Twain’s take on the celebrity his writing thrust upon him: “Yes, you are afraid of the interviewer, and that is not an inspiration. You close your shell; you put yourself on your guard; you try to be colorless; you try to be crafty, and talk all around a matter without saying anything: and when you see it in print, it makes you sick to see how well you succeeded.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United attracted widespread attention for concluding that corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment, a more recent opinion, in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, offered another window into the Roberts Court’s views on free speech, noted David Cole in the New York Review of Books. In the new ruling, “the Court ruled—for the first time in its history—that speech advocating only lawful, nonviolent activity can be subject to criminal penalty, even where the speakers’ intent is to discourage resort to violence.”

Sen. Byrd: The road from Wolf Creek Hollow

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photo by Jim Noelker

This is the closing chapter of Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s autobiography, “Child of the Appalachian coalfields“:

Having completed fifty years in Congress as of 2002, and with some years remaining in the eighth six-year term to which the people of West Virginia have elected me, I have chosen to close this story of my journeys. Never having forgotten my roots, I continue to be aware that my highest duty is to West Virginia and to the people of that state who have honored me with public office for more than a half-century.

My own less-than-modest beginnings and the poverty of my state during my boyhood years have never faded from my view, and it has been my constant desire to improve the lives of the people who have sent me to Washington time and time again. To them, I shall be grateful from the bottom of my heart as long as I live.

The road from Wolf Creek Hollow has been uphill and downhill, long and tenuous and winding — a road filled with indelible memories: the ghosts of vanished years, the faces of long gone and the voices long stilled. It was a road filled with hopes in the morning of life; preparation when the sun was at its meridian; and service in the long afternoon with lengthening shadows that stretch away to the hills of Night. To paraphrase Robert Frost, it has been a road “less traveled by,” and that has “made all the difference.”

“There is no writer that shall not perish;

but what his hand hath written endureth forever.”

— From The Thousand and One Nights

In this Feb. 6, 1979, file photo Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W, Va., plays the fiddle for his grandchildren as he relaxes at home in Washington. They are, from left, Mary Anne Moore, Erik Fatemi, Frederik, Frederik Fatemi, Michael Moore, Mona Byrd Moore and Darvis Fatemi.

Here’s one of Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s last “Byrd’s-eye View” newspaper columns:

This year, 2010, is the fortieth anniversary of the premier of John Denver’s musical tribute to West Virginia as “almost heaven.”

When I think of Denver’s classic song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” (which was co-written with Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert) I think about the things that make West Virginia so unique. First, of course, is the kind and generous nature of the people of our beloved state. Next, I picture the beauty and serenity of our mountains. They seem sacred, and, in fact, mountains are a frequent location for events in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. It was on Mt. Sinai that God revealed himself to Moses and gave Him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:16 and 20:17). God allowed Moses to view the Promised Land from a mountain. It was on Mt. Carmel where Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal, and, on Mt. Ararat that Noah’s Ark came to rest (Genesis 8:4).

Some of the most important teachings of Jesus, as well as the critical events in His life took place in the mountains. The Transfiguration of Jesus, one of the most important Miracles, took place on a mountain, probably Mount Tabor (Luke 9:28-43). It was on Mount Olives that Jesus instructed His disciples (Matthew 24:3). The third temptation of Christ took place on a mountain, so that Jesus could see the kingdoms of the world. (Matthew 4:8-9). And, of course, Jesus delivered perhaps His most important Sermon, the “Sermon on the Mount,” from a hillside, where he also gave us the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5-7). Jesus gave His life for our salvation and was crucified on a hill, Golgotha (Calvary).

Throughout the Bible, examples of the powerful and mystical significance of mountains can be found. For example, Isaiah 25:6 tells us of the celestial banquet on Mount Zion that is a symbol of eternal happiness, and the coming of the Kingdom of God. And one of my favorite passages from the Bible, Psalm121:1, reads: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

Contemplating the use of mountains and hillsides as symbols in Holy Scripture, underscores what a special gift our mountains are for the people of West Virginia. Majestic, inspiring, and, at times, intimidating, our mountains remind us of the glory of the view after the challenge of the climb. Perhaps that is why West Virginians retain a stalwart and independent character, always inspired by possibilities and undaunted by difficulties.