Atofina Chemical Company had a great week! It inked a sweatheart agreement with the state that stops any criminal investigations by the state, even before the Federal NSTB issues its report. And an Atofina paid-for flack issued a report that attempts to minimize the possibility that medical problems could exist outside of the plant from the July 14, 2001 disaster.
Enclosed are several links (URLs) to news reports, Atofina's site, and
Grosse Ile's web site,
with information on Atofina. The Free Press article has new information on how the accident occurred.
Atofina paid for a Toxicologist Report, which was prepared
by a doctor selected by the Grosse Ile Supervisor,
from a list of consultants that Atofina suggested.
The report is a transparent attempt to deny responsibility for the medical problems experienced by those outside the plant. The report did not examine any medical reports or even the log of 325 calls to Atofina's Hotline from citizens plagued with immediate medical problems. This blatant denial that the explosion could have caused extensive health problems, further damages Atofina's credibility in its attempts to assure the community that the plant is now safe (Last week, the News Herald ran an upbeat story about the air monitoring devices installed at "process 46", which is the methylmercaptan and chlorine process that exploded.)
In my opinion, the State and Atofina rushed to sign a sweetheart agreement.
Why do I say that? Because the National Safety Transportation
Board has not issued its report yet. Those familiar with NSTB reports suggest
it will be much more comprehensive in its analysis of Atofina's conduct
leading up to the July 14 accident.
It will amount to a damning indictment of Atofina.
The NSTB had no jurisdiction in the Ford Rouge Powerhouse explosion of February 1, 1999. Ford was fined $7 million. But the expected NSTB report on Atofina would "raise the bar" to new heights as far as potential criminal and civil liabilities facing Atofina and its top management.
The agreement is written so that ATOFINA escapes additional liability and criminal prosecution by the state.
Most of the $6.2 million that ATOFINA agreed to pay, had already been spent adding long over-due safety measures.
Atofina's parent company, AtoFinaElf is one of the fifty largest corporations in the world, with 2001 profits in excess of $7 Billion dollars (TOT NYSE http://www.nasdaq.com/asp/quotes_reports.asp?symbol=TOT&selected=TOT).
For Atofina, the fines and penalties are a "non-event". But escaping additional administrative liabilities and criminal exposures is a windfall. It's like Chrismas in May!
This settlement ignores the larger ramifications of Atofina's irresponsibilty. EPA documents warn that in a worse case scenario at Atofina's Riverview Plant, a rupture of one of its 90-ton rail cars of chlorine could endanger 3 million people.
Atofina wanted to settle before the NSTB report was issued, while there was still a governor in Michigan whose administration will favor industrial scoff-laws, rather than objectively enforce the laws designed to protect workers and citizens.
There is some confusion about this settlement. It will not affect any class action or individual lawsuits against Atofina, for wrongful deaths, medical and property damages. It only affects the State of Michigan's ability to pursue criminal or administrative actions as more information is discovered and revealed by the NSTB.
"The deaths of three workers last summer in a chemical explosion
and fire Downriver could have
been prevented had the company followed routine safety regulations, according to state documents
"Under an agreement reached with the state this week, ATOFINA Chemicals
must pay the state
$6.2 million for safety programs, training and fines related to the July 14 accident at its Riverview
"State officials said a faulty valve on a tank and a lack of training
led to the release of a toxic chemical
"Lives were lost because management did not diligently prepare for the
emergencies inherent when
using dangerous chemicals," said Kathleen Wilbur, director of the state's Department of Consumer and
Industry Services (CIS), which regulates worker safety in Michigan.
"But the agreement is written so that ATOFINA escapes liability and criminal prosecution by the state. . ."
The toxicology report is posted at: www.grosseile.com/government/reports/atofina_may_02.html
I could find the State of Michigan press release only on the Atofina web site, along with Atofina's response: www.atofinachemicals.com/whatsnew/press_display.cfm?Press_ID=329