Aftermath: Too many unanswered questions in IEI fire

It took most Mid-Ohio Valley residents who were not experiencing eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; coughing; or nausea only a few days to adjust to last week’s new normal. “The wind must have shifted again, the haze is back. Wow, it smells awful outside!”

Wood County Schools students have been out of class for a week and a half. Many downtown businesses and government buildings have been closed for several days. The academic and economic impact of these closures alone cannot yet be known.

But, worse, we also do not yet know what, precisely, has been burning in the remains of the Intercontinental Export-Import Plastics warehouse on Old Camden Avenue. In fact, it seems no one knows. Nor, for that matter, did anyone seem to know immediately exactly how many similar facilities owned by just this group of companies exist here in Wood County, let alone those owned by others.

How is it possible there is no one keeping track of that kind of storage, especially here, in the Polymer Alliance Zone?

It certainly seems as though there was no one from the company keeping track of much of anything to do with this facility. Why should they? Once they swept into town with the promise of jobs, it appears they received a bit of a free pass. Almost a decade’s worth of free passes, actually.

Did West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection turn a blind eye to a company, which bills itself as a “service organization” because of its recycling programs and claims “going green is more than just a color,” despite knowing since at least 2011 that the plastic pellets being stored at the former Ames plant were spilling into the water supply — among other environmental violations — and being stored in a building without working fire mitigation systems? It was a disaster just waiting to happen, and one of which we got a preview during a fire at another building at the site, just a few years ago.

Some local fire officials have been trying to blow the whistle on this place since 2008. Many of those who tried to tell the state fire marshal it was a ticking time bomb were among the first to rush to the scene to begin fighting the fire that began Oct. 21.

Company executives are not talking, nor, it seems, are they rushing to comply with the compliance order from the DEP they received Thursday, which demanded information on what was stored in the warehouse. Meanwhile, county and state officials who let IEI slide for years now find themselves playing catchup; and are still in the dark on some of the questions that matter most.

West Virginians suffer time and again because the state’s environmental and safety laws and regulations are enforced only when politicians and bureaucrats want to punish someone. This time, it is the Mid-Ohio Valley left to wonder what lasting effects we might suffer because the fox was guarding the hen house — and in this case, it seems, even the fox had taken a break.

Too many questions are being left unanswered, and residents are getting tired of hearing “no comment,” “we don’t have that information” and “I’ll be able to talk to you about that in a few days.”

Those of us who have been living with the aftermath of what appears to be negligence by many parties need to know, now.