JUNE 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 6
N A M E S I N T H E N E W S
More Death on the Job
Eight workers were killed, 128 were injured and half of the city of Sterlington, Louisiana was evacuated when an explosion ripped through a nitroparaffin plant owned by International Minerals and Chemicals Fertilizer Group, Inc. (IMC) in May. The blast, one of the worst ever in the United States, is the most recent in a series of incidents at chemical plants over the past year which have devastated workers and towns across the southern United States.
Though Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Administrator Gerard Scannell testified before the House Employment Subcommittee that OSHA's "investigation of the incident is moving forward swiftly," other OSHA officials admitted that the IMC nitroparaffin plant had not been subject to a federal safety inspection for almost a decade.
With OSHA maintaining such a lax inspection record, "it is only a matter of time before a [Union Carbide] Bhopal [incident] happens here," charges Joel Carr, an industrial hygienist with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. "OSHA's lack of aggressiveness in protecting the workers of America is clearly illustrated in this incident. It is not the fault of field personnel that the leadership of the agency and this administration will not adequately plan for the... inevitable. This is a leadership failure at the top."
The Bush administration was also criticized by union officials and Representative Tom Lantos, D-CA, for failing to establish a federal Chemical and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent five-member investigatory board which would be similar to the National Safety Transportation Board. Such a board was established in last year's amendments to the Clean Air Act, which President Bush signed. Yet Bush has since voiced opposition and so far has failed to nominate the five board members. Additionally, Bush's 1992 budget does not seek any money for such a board.
Marathon Oil Company reluctantly agreed in May 1991 to plead guilty to criminal charges of violating the Clean Water Act for illegally discharging pollutants near its Indianapolis refinery. The company agreed to pay the maximum fine of $900,000 and to spend $3 million over the next two years to upgrade the water treatment system at the refinery.
The corporation pleaded guilty to one felony count for knowingly bypassing a portion of its waste water treatment facility, one misdemeanor count for negligently failing to report the bypass to appropriate authorities and one misdemeanor count for negligently introducing a pollutant into the city sewer system which could create a fire or an explosion hazard.
A two-year federal investigation of Marathon's Indianapolis refinery was spurred by a May 1989 explosion and fire in a house located about two miles from the facility. The home was in the path of the refinery's sewer line, and measurements taken following the explosion revealed that the waste discharged by Marathon was 10 times more explosive than permitted by Indianapolis city regulations.
Despite those findings, FBI case agent Larry Fon says the investigation was prolonged by Marathon's uncooperativeness and that "most of the [Marathon] witnesses had to be compelled to appear before the grand jury."
U.S. Attorney Deborah J. Daniels says the case should send a message to polluters that federal prosecutors will "deal harshly with environmental offenses. ... No company should be permitted to view such offenses as simply a cost of doing business."
General Motors has made numerousfalse and illegal assertions in advertising its receipt of the U.S. Colnmerce Department's Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, according to Texas Attorney General Dan Morales. GM's Cadillac division won the award this year, and immediately touted it to consumers. Morales, however, is pursuing a false advertising case, charging that the GM ads have misled and deceived consumers.
Morales alleges that GM's claim that "167,000 different companies ... applied for consideration" for the Commerce Department award in 1990 is false. In the category in which Cadillac competed, only 45 companies applied, two of which were recipients.
GM spokesperson Harold Jackson admits that the company made a "mistake" in using the 167,000 figure. "Beyond this mistake, the ads concerning the Baldrige Award are accurate and not misleading," he says.
Texas Assistant Attorney General Stephen Gardner, however, charges that it was not a mistake. "They did that on purpose. They felt that because 167,000 people wrote the Commerce Department and asked 'What about the Baldrige Award' that every one of them could be considered applicants."
Gardner says that GM also falsely claimed that the Commerce Department praised Cadillac for improved engine performance, when the Commerce Department did not even mention the engine and has actually objected to that claim. Further, says Gardner, GM advertised that Cadillac received the award because of its dedication to owner satisfaction, its continued commitment to improvement and its dedication to quality, although the Commerce Department did not give those reasons.
- David Lapp