May 13, 2002
ATOFINA has reached an agreement to pay the state of Michigan 6.2 million dollars for safety programs, training and fines. This concludes a state investigation into the chemical explosion and fire which killed three workers at the ATOFINA Chemicals plant in Riverview, Michigan, near Detroit. According to a report recently released by the state, the tragedy could have been prevented had the company followed routine safety regulations.
On July 14th, 2001, a 25,000-gallon railroad tank car leaking methyl mercaptan erupted into a 200 foot fireball at the plant. Not only did the fire and explosion kill the three workers – it led to the evacuation of 2500 people in the area due to the toxic fumes released into the environment. Many people sustained injuries, ranging from throat, lung and stomach burns, to chronic headaches and stomach aches.
The agreement with ATOFINA is similar to an earlier agreement that the state had made with Ford Motor Company, effectively absolving Ford of responsibility for a February, 1999 explosion that killed six workers and seriously injured dozens more.
In both cases, the state investigators clearly uncovered conscious decisions made by each company which not only violated standard safety procedures, but did so in a way that made executives of the company criminally liable. Nonetheless, the state wrote an agreement which let the corporations escape liability and criminal prosecution by the state in exchange for paying sizeable fines. What’s a few million dollars to corporate giants? ATOFINA is the sixth-largest chemical company in the world; and Ford Motor Company is the fourth-largest company, period, in the world.
In both cases, the state officials said they did this in order to settle claims for the survivors as soon as possible. No, the state was simply settling vexing problems for both corporations, sweeping them under the rug as quickly as possible.
The survivors – workers and residents who paid the high price of death, permanent injury and chronic illness – are not served by an agreement that is nothing but a license for each corporation to go out and do it again.