Chemical Safety Board Investigates in Charleston

By: Jennifer Rizzi Email
By: Jennifer Rizzi Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Johnnie Banks has seen 11 years worth of problems. He's with the Chemical Safety Board and follows up wherever disaster calls.

"We analyze evidence and interview eyewitnesses," he said.

This week, the massive chemical leak landed his team in Charleston. That's where they'll stay till Friday, investigating why it happened and whether prevention was possible.

Although he's no stranger to emergencies, Banks says this case really stands out.

"It's striking, the far-reaching implications of this," he said. "Up to 300,000 citizens have had their lives disrupted, so it resonates with our agency as something significant."

His crew is going straight to the source -- Freedom Industries. They're taking photos of conditions at the company and talking to employees and officials about what went wrong.

But a big part of the process is also talking to neighbors and trying to provide answers.

"We deal with the community where their lives have been torn asunder," Banks said. "They come to us and seek understanding of what happened and why."

The crew is just beginning to collect facts and wouldn't comment on findings yet. They say the process is so involved that it could take a year or more to publish results.

Six years ago, the CSB also investigated an explosion and a fire at Bayer CropScience in Institute that killed two workers.

Their recommendations in that case were ignored.

Members say they only have authority to make suggestions, not to enforce them.

"We're dancing as fast as we can, but we need support from the public," Banks said.

The investigating team will be posting updates periodically on their website,, and checking for public feedback.

They also hope to release preliminary findings in a public setting within six months.

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