Eight-Day Toxic Warehouse Fire Goes Unnoticed as Corporate News Omits the Plastic Company’s Wrongdoing

by Vins

On October 27, 2017, Nathalie Baptiste of Mother Jones reported on a storage warehouse chemical fire that broke out in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The massive fire continued to burn for over seven days. Intercontinental Export Import, Inc., a Maryland-based plastics company, owns the warehouse that released clouds of black smoke over the local town for a week. The safety of the warehouse had been suspect since 2008.

Almost ten years ago, volunteer firefighters warned there would be a major fire at the warehouse. And last February, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) used the terms “unsatisfactory” and “marginal” to describe housekeeping and materials storage at the warehouse.

After the fire broke out, a state of emergency was declared as schools were boarded up and residents were warned to stay inside.

Despite orders from the WV DEP, Intercontinental Export Import has not yet delivered an inventory list or a detailed plan for disposal of the leftover waste. As Mother Jones reported, according to officials with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, “the warehouse may have contained nylon, titanium dioxide, and formaldehyde.” Questions remain about the fire’s impact on the health of Parkersburg’s 44,000 residents, as well as the surrounding environment. West Virginia Governor, Jim Justice, requested federal funding to aid in firefighting and environmental testing costs. The EPA organized a plane to fly overhead with high-definition camera equipment to aid in firefighting efforts.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Dave Mistich updated what is known—and what remained unknown—about the fire on October 30, 2017. The warehouse burned for a total of eight and a half days and required on-site monitoring for at least two more days in case the fire reignited. The West Virginia DEP is still trying to work with IEI to determine exactly what was stored in the warehouse. “The exact contents of the warehouse have yet to be released. Officials say materials data that was initially handed over by the property owner is outdated and other documentation was destroyed in the fire.” Until authorities know what was burning in the warehouse, they will not know how it will impact the health of the surrounding area.

Corporate news coverage of the conflagration and subsequent investigation have been minimal. On October 27, the Huffington Post published an article on the fire, but its report included less factual substance. Many quotes from residents complaining about the smell and the smoke were featured, and details about some initial pollution testing were reported, but apart from that the Huffington Post report made no mention of the investigations by EPA and West Virginia DEP officials, or to IEI’s responsibility.

Sources:

Nathalie Babtiste, “This Chemical Fire in West Virginia Has Been Burning for Nearly a Week,” Mother Jones, October 27, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/10/this-chemical-fire-in-west-virginia-has-been-burning-for-nearly-a-week/#.

David Mistich, “Parkersburg Fire Is Out, But Questions Remain,” West Virginia Public Broadcasting, October 30, 2017, http://wvpublic.org/post/parkersburg-fire-out-questions-remain#stream/0.

Student Researcher: Wilson Cook (Syracuse University)

Faculty Evaluators: Ellen Fallon and Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)