IEI Fire: Hazardous material should be made public

Last fall, Mid-Ohio Valley residents watched for a week and a half as the Intercontinental Export-Import Plastics warehouse on Camden Avenue went up in flames, smoldering and sputtering fumes. No one was quite sure what was burning, let alone what had caused the fire — or whether it was accidental or intentional.

Our local fire departments and emergency responders worked tirelessly, and then turned the job over to clean up crews, investigators and inspectors. That was when the pace slowed considerably.

We still do not know exactly what was burning. We still do not know what caused the fire. We still do not know what is in all the other similar warehouses dotting our community and state.

To be fair, Deputy State Fire Marshal Jason Baltic explained the extent of the damage at the scene was what made it so difficult to carry out the investigation. He says he will continue to pursue leads that might help him change that designation — undetermined.

Also undetermined, apparently, is whether there will be any legislation introduced in the upcoming legislative session to create a warehouse registry that would inform citizens of what is being stored in the buildings in their neighborhoods, beside their schools, across the railroad tracks from where they work. Such a registry would not only inform citizens, when the next such fire occurs, it would also give first responders the information they need to fight the fire correctly and safely.

Trucks and trains passing through our region bear placards that deliver some of that information. Why in the world are we happy to remain in the dark about the substances just sitting here?

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the fire site will be cleaned up by about Sept. 17. With the public ceremonies and a wrapping up of that process, it might be easy for our elected officials to forget — to lose track of the determination felt so strongly all those months ago to do something to inform citizens and help keep them safe.