Steve Pauley, Former Chemical Plant Worker, Culloden, Putnam County

I have been watching this situation very closely, and I have to say that I am quite upset. However, it’s not at WV American Water or Freedom Industries so much. I do hold them responsible, but I am more upset at this whole “Water Crisis” idea that has been swirling about. This my friends is not a crisis, it’s an inconvenience. This thing is being reported as a catastrophic event, but it is not. It is a symptom of a larger crisis, the real and true devastation in this area and this state. I’m talking about the chemical and mining industries. They have brought destruction, illness, and death, but they are treated as saviors.

To tell you my story, I have to go beyond this water situation and back several decades. My father past away in 2006. He worked at the chemical plant in Institute. He worked there most of his adult life, surrounded by chemical leaks and even had a job for many years burying the most hazardous chemical waste in the landfill on Goff Mountain. He had major health problems for most of my life. He was in and out of the hospital more times than I could even count. He had three heart attacks by the age of 60. And, he finally died at the age of 70 from numerous disorders. I know that it is all due to the time he spent in that plant.

I remember one particular incident that spells out the mindset of the chemical industry and the state government around here. When I was around eight years-old, there was a leak at the plant (as there were on many occasions). Some gas was released that was so toxic it peeled the paint on all the cars in the parking lots and surrounding areas. The workers and residents of the area complained to the governor and what they got was $100 to get their cars detailed, with no mention of health risks of inhaling this stuff.

When I was in my twenties I too worked in the chemical plant, because there were so few other jobs for non-skilled people like me who also had no access to higher education. I spent two years in the plant, and in that time I saw chemical leaks on a daily basis. And, each time some representative from the chemical company or the state government always insisted that the leak was “contained within the plant.” I always wondered, as most of the leaks were gases, how they managed to contain gases within the plant. Was there some magic force field around the plant that kept them in?

Let me share one last story about my decision to finally leave the chemical plant. One day I was up on a tower cleaning up some waste material that had leaked out (supposedly with protective gear, but I never felt entirely secure about its effectiveness). While I was up there the chemical alarm sounded for a gas leak of Methyl isocyanate (MIC), the same stuff that killed all those people in Bhopal, India in 1984. During the alarm everyone else sheltered in place, but I was up on a tower and couldn’t get down, so I was left there while all these chemicals swirled around me. Once the emergency was over, someone finally came to get me down, but only after they had me finish the job that I was doing up there. I sent letters to OSHA and my congressman about the incident and was assured that there would be a “thorough investigation.” That was in 1991, and I’m still waiting to hear anything further about it.

So, you see why I don’t regard this latest event as a major event. This sort of thing has been happening to the people of “Chemical Valley” for decades and the government is in support of the companies. I will guarantee now that promises of investigations and full accountability will be made, but a month from now, this will be like it never happened and every official from the government and the companies involved will have “forgotten” that it ever happened. And, that is my story.