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Rick Mullin 08-21-2019 01:37 PM

35 years after Bhopal
A day job article (...long) on the chemical industry's community outreach after Bhopal~the world's worst industrial accident took place 35 years ago. The part about the ethylene cracker in Pittsburgh is starting to get some coverage elsewhere. The New York Times had a front page story on it (...short) the day my story came out. The day after, Trump visited. You no doubt say him speak with all the Shell Chemical hard hats behind him last week.

Half my story is about an unnecessary and huge plastics factory (ethylene cracker) being built in order to make fracking more profitable--in a state that is already wall-to-wall fracked. There is money to be made from the Marcellus Shale reserve. But the market for plastics is heavily into overcapacity. As for Trump's visit, the optics were hugely skewed. Right now, there are nearly 6,000 people employed building the plant through next year. In 2021, there will be only 600 new jobs. The plant was approved during the Obama administration.

The story also covers the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia, where the chemical industry got started and where there was a sister plant to the Bhopal plant making methyl isocyanate, which killed over 2,000 (probably way over) and injured hundreds of thousands in 1984.

Note--the online headline was adjusted for "search engine optimization" and makes absolutely no sense. The print headline was "Community outreach 35 years after Bhopal".

This story is why I haven't been around much lately.

Julie Steiner 08-24-2019 12:34 AM

Dang, that's a lot of legwork, Rick. Were you able to resist the temptation to paint the 89-year-old with the walking stick?

Interesting and well-written.

Having people ask questions at individual tables, so that the institution gives the appearance of hearing the public's concerns, but without the whole room being able to hear unflattering questions raised and addressed, and so no real discussion or challenges to the official answer can take place, was a tactic also employed at the clergy sex abuse "listening sessions" that my local Catholic bishop held last October. Now I know where he got it from.

Rick Mullin 08-24-2019 11:10 AM

Thanks for reading this epic longread, Julie.

I didn't paint any people, but I did paint the cracker and Blaine Island. Both from pencil sketches done on site.

You notice that three people in the article objected to the "question tables"--the most transparently ham-handed technique of keeping low information folk from coming down with any information from higher-information folk. If all I accomplish as a journalist is to allow people to mock this PR strategy in print and online, I can retire in relative peace. Really stunning to hear that the Catholic church is employing it thus. Not surprised. It’s a pervasive shuck.


Allen Tice 08-24-2019 10:43 PM

The world needs more posts like this. Many more posts. Good job.

Rick Mullin 08-29-2019 05:54 PM

Thanks Allen!

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