Sustained Outrage

OSHA to probe DuPont death; Carper wants CSB, too

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials have launched an inspection at the DuPont Co. plant in Belle, W.Va., following the death of plant worker Carl “Dan” Fish after being sprayed in the face with toxic phosgene gas.

commissioner-carper.jpgBut Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper this morning urged the federal Chemical Safety Board to also join in probing the death and the series of recent incidents at the Belle plant.

I have urged them to do a full, formal investigation,” Carper said.

Still no word from the CSB about whether they will deploy anyone …

Carper noted that OSHA, WVDEP, EPA and other agencies generally look just for specific violations of environmental or safety rules. But, Carper said, the CSB digs deeper to figure out why accidents occur and to propose ways to avoid future accidents.

Over the last few years, Carper was involved with the CSB’s highly publicized probe of the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two Bayer CropScience Institute plant workers and  the propane explosion that killed four people at the Little General Store in Ghent, W.Va.

Whistleblowers tried to alert the Securities and Exchange Commission to violations of securities law, but the SEC “has a haphazard, decentralized system for analyzing outsider information,” the Washington Post reports.

Poverty is growing in the Baltimore suburbs while decreasing in the city, the Baltimore Sun reports. This fits with a national trend identified by a study released by the Brookings Institution, which found that the suburbs are now home to the largest and fastest growing population of poor people in the country.

unemploymentinsurance.JPGUnemployment insurance problems? has an Insurance Tracker that maps which states’ unemployment insurance programs are in trouble. So far, 25 states have run out of money and either borrowed, raised taxes or cut benefits. The six-month projections show which states are expected to be insolvent or in trouble. So far, West Virginia is listed “in the clear.”

Matthew Leavitt speaks

Matthew Leavitt, who pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanors and acknowledged in court that he wrongly arrested Lauren Reynolds for DUI and beat her husband Twan Reynolds with a slapjack, called in to MetroNews Talkline on WCHS Radio Thursday and said none of those things ever happened.

The interview is online here.

“There’s nothing more I can do than to state the fact that this didn’t happen,” he said. “The allegations that were made against me and my partner were stuff out of the movies, something you would expect out of a movie about a corrupt 1960s sheriff out of Mississippi. They were crazy.

“I just try to pick up what I got left and take care of my family and live my life as I always have. I just want to go on the record as saying I have no problems or issues with any race, sex, creed, color, religion. I believe in doing the right thing. That’s what I tried to do when I wore my badge,” Leavitt said.

When asked about other allegations, Leavitt said he figured there would be more charges coming.

“I’m sure if Mike Clifford and the insurance companies’ checkbooks have anything to do with it, yeah there’ll be a lot more allegations.”

Continue reading…

What we’re reading: More on BPA; backlogged dockets

Bisphenol A, that substance that lines cans and other food packaging and has been banned from baby bottles in Canada, has been found to affect the intestines of rats in a study at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Toulouse, says a story from Agence France-Presse.  Dozens of studies for the past 10 years have linked BPA to problems such as breast cancer, obesity and early puberty. This time, researchers found that even low levels of BPA messed with the permeability of the intestinal lining. Rats exposed before birth had a higher risk of developing severe intestinal inflammation as adults.

Judges in New York may face disciplinary action for having backlogged dockets, the state’s top court ruled Tuesday, Oliver Mackson of the Times Herald-Record reported.

Secret meetings, Dec. 11, 2009


Hey — it’s a great week for open government in West Virginia! There were no meetings listed in today’s edition of The State Register that violated the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

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.

Mall arrest – some points to ponder

The story I wrote today on a man getting arrested for taking photos in the mall just keeps on keeping on.

It turns out this wasn’t the first time Scott Rensberger was arrested for taking photos. On Jan. 1, 1994, he was arrested outside Bill Gates’ wedding in Hawaii while taking video for a Seattle TV station . According to a Seattle Times article published at the time, Rensberger was booked for investigation of trespassing. The charge was dropped when he agreed to leave the island.

Rensberger sued Gates and Dole Food Co., which owned the resort where the wedding was being held. He won a partial summary judgment against both, according to the Seattle Times. The judge ruled that he should have been allowed to film from public property. Here’s a link to his lawyer’s Web site with more info on the settlement.

It’s also important to keep in mind that Rensberger was acting as a private citizen when he took the photos. When interviewed Wednesday, Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said there was no reason why Rensberger couldn’t take Officer Basford’s photo.

“I don’t think police can keep people from taking their pictures. I think what the officer is saying is that he put his hand up there and that (Rensberger) slapped it and that would be unwarranted contact,” Webster said. “That’s where the versions of events differ.”

Later on Wednesday, Webster called back after talking to some of the mall officials, he reconsidered his statement. It is possible that the reason Basford threw his hand in front of the camera was because of the mall’s policy on photography,however lose that is, the chief said.

Anyone that’s interested in getting a little more info on where reporters can do their jobs can take a look at this guide published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Happy Thursday. If you haven’t seen these gems, you might want to take a look:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been criticized by some of its own members, and some members have quit, over the chambers old-fashioned views on climate change.  Chamber Director Thomas J. Donohue is unfazed, by a lot of things, apparently, in this New York Times profile.

Workplace e-mail issues? Companies are facing tougher tests in the nation’s courts when they try to monitor employees’ personal accounts. It seems there is a growing presumption of privacy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

PCBs were banned three decades ago, but they still persist in the food chain, and a new study at the University of Albany in New York suggests that PCBs could be linked to high blood pressure, says Science News.

All students would be required to speak two languages to graduate, Fairfax County, Va., schools decided in 2006. They began teaching foreign language to elementary students. But with the economic downturn, foreign language for little kids may now be considered a frill, according to The Washington Post.

Plea hearings have been scheduled for three people implicated in a state workforce training grant scandal.

Comar CEO Al Hendershot, former Workforce West Virginia administrator Mary Jane Bowling and West Virginia State University Extension agent Christine Gardner are set to appear in federal court Dec. 8 at 9:30 a.m.

Hendershot, Bowling and Gardner are expected to plead guilty to charges that they misused federal grant money administered by Workforce West Virginia, according to previous court filings.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver has been assigned the case.

A fourth person involved in the scandal, former Comar Chief Technical Officer Martin Bowling, already has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 3.

You can find the Gazette’s ongoing investigation of Workforce West Virginia here.  

What we’re reading: Education, sick days, runaways

Oops. Is Thursday gone already? In that case, here’s this week’s overdue glance at what we’re reading:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had identified 15 states to receive $250,000, the better for states to compete for “Race to the Top” education stimulus money. After other states complained, the foundation has made funds available to all states, the New York Times reports.

One anti-flu tactic is advising people to stay home when they are sick. But that amounts to a day without pay for 34 percent of U.S. workers, or 72 percent of part-time workers who have no paid sick leave, reports the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times.

As job losses and foreclosures stress families, more teens are running away from their families, and often, no one is looking for them, the New York Times found.

It’s Thursday. Time for an update on things that have caught our eye this week:

Florida regulators actually denied a rate increase to a power company, says Carl Hiaasen.

Journalism students at Northwestern University have raised enough questions about a conviction in a killing 31 years ago that the man who has been serving time for the killing will get another day in court. In response, prosecutors are demanding the students notes, emails and even their grades, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Track highway stimulus funds over at ProPublica. You can see the top 10 contractors and the largest contracts. You can also search by state, and then browse stimulus funded contracts by county. West Virginia is listed as receiving $184 million, by the way. The highest is California with more than $2 billion. The lowest is Delaware, with $60 million.