Did You Hear About the Leak at duPont?

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

Plant Stands by "If They Don't Ask, We Don't Tell" Position

There was a leak at duPont’s Washington Works on Friday, May 28. One worker was injured to the point that he had to be taken to a Pittsburgh Hospital and the plant was placed under a “shelter-in-place” mode out of concern for a wider leak.

You may have heard some of these details on WTAP News earlier this week.
The only reason you heard them was because WTAP got a tip about this and contacted DuPont.  Within an hour, we received a news release with those few details.
WTAP was told by Robin Ollis-Stemple, external affairs manager for DuPont that she does not “pro-actively push”  (that was her phrase) every incident at the local news media. To push every incident, I take it, is to put out a news release or a statement about every incident.
With all due respect to Ms. Stemple and DuPont, this was not your everyday plant incident. There was a leak of a substance. A person was exposed to that leak or suffered some other injury related to that release. He was taken to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh, to which many local victims of fires and chemical spills have been taken over the years.
WTAP has been very careful in its reporting about DuPont over the past few years, despite all of the swirling allegations about the impact of C-8 on drinking water and the people who drank that water. We’ve come under some pretty intense pressure to take a harder line against DuPont and have been criticized for not doing so.  But we made the decision long ago to let the courts hash this out and to let the science panel do its work to determine what is fact and what is not. We stand by that decision.
But decisions by DuPont, like not taking a pro-active position to make public the details of the leak and injury on May 28, do nothing but make people more suspicious of the company. Yes, it can be argued that in the operation of a massive and complex facility such as the Washington Works, there are going to be accidents and injuries.  To “push” a news release on each one, it could be argued, could be counter-productive.
But when the work force is ordered to “shelter in place” – which means stay in place, do not go out of doors – out of concern for the leak, and a person is injured to the point of needing very specialized care, DuPont should, in the interest of full disclosure and being a good neighbor, release that information before it is asked for.
It makes you wonder how many other similar incidents and injuries have taken place at duPont , even in the past year, that we never heard about. Perhaps there were none, but how are you or we to know without going to OSHA and asking for the records?
WTAP discussed this issue with DuPont this week and we hope that that discussion will lead to the company taking a more pro-active approach toward its news releases, to expand the types of incidents that it feels newsworthy enough to inform the news media and the public about,  and the speed with which those releases are issued.
That’s what a good neighbor  ought to do – not wait until a rumor forces you to release data, but release that data as soon as possible.
We will keep you posted as to whether that’s what happens going forward.
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