Friday, April 2, 2010. Residents as far as five miles away from the Tesoro Corporation’s Anacortes, Washington refinery felt it - a sudden explosion at in the middle of the night. Anyone who looked up into the night sky could see it - the sky over the refinery was brightly lit by the flames of the resulting fire.
In the refinery itself – chaos – the final determination of what caused the explosion is probably weeks if not months away when the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) finishes it investigation and publishes its report.
In the meantime, the few facts that are known are almost too horrible to contemplate. Four workers killed by the blast and 3 seriously injured. One of those injured succumbed to her injuries later on Saturday. Most of the injured and killed were members of USW Local 12-591. “We feel a deep sadness for the families who died, those who were injured and all the members of Local 12-591," said USW District 12 Director Robert LaVenture. "While we mourn now, we will seek justice.” (click here for the entire USW press release)
In April of 2009, the refinery was cited by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) for 17 “serious” safety and health violations with the potential to cause death or serious injury and 150 deficiencies where the company did not:
- Compile accurate and complete process safety information.
- Identify, evaluate and control process hazards.
- Ensure safe work practices for energy control.
- Update process-safety information.
This is the largest refinery disaster since the 2005 BP –Texas City, TX explosion which killed 15 but is far from the only one. Spokesman Daniel Horowitz for the CSB stated. “Almost half our accidents, the serious ones, are at refineries. We’re seeing a disproportionate number of serious accidents at refineries.” This statement is especially frightening when you consider there are only 150 refineries in the United States and tens of thousands of other chemical plants.
There was hope in the labor movement that the BP incident in 2005 would be the wake up call for a sadly deficient refinery industry. That has obviously not been the case. We won’t know for some time if one of the violations or other findings of the earlier state inspection of the Tesoro refinery contributed to this particular horrific event, but even if not, the fact that Tesoro Corporation would rather pay lawyers to reduce those citations than mechanics to fix the hazards themselves speaks volumes about why this problem has not only not gone away but will be with us far into the future.
The USW will always be there to fight for our members and for other workers in need, but admittedly we are tired - tired of going to our friends’ funerals - tired of seeing the pain and grief in the eyes of their families - and damn tired of an industry that refuses to step up and do what is morally and ethically right for its workers and for the communities around their facilities.