State files criminal charges in hazardous chemical case
The state has filed criminal charges against Baker Hughes, one of the largest oil field service companies in the world.
The charges stem from an incident on the Kenai Peninsula in May 2014, when workers were exposed to what the state describes as a “hazardous gas release.” The workers involved claim the company poisoned them and knew it was happening, but took no action.
Charging documents list four men who were exposed to the gas. All were employees of UIC Construction, LLC. The company was contracted by a subsidiary of Baker Hughes to build a new chemical transfer facility in Kenai to replace an aging one owned by another Baker Hughes subsidiary, Baker Petrolite Corporation.
According to the documents, the workers complained several times about a pipe that was venting fumes from the old facility into the open windows of the new facility that UIC was building. But the documents say a sales manager for for Baker Hughes and Baker Petrolite Corporation, Clyde Willis, who is also charged, claimed the chemicals were not harmful. When questioned on another occasion, charging documents say Willard agreed to modify the pipe but failed to do so before an incident on May 8, 2014.
That day, Baker Petrolite employees were cleaning a tote that contained a chemical considered hazardous by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The charging documents say a Petrolite employee, wearing full protective gear, transferred the chemical which, in turn, emitted fumes that entered the building where the UCI employees worked. At least four workers were exposed. All complained of headaches, sore throats and severe respiratory distress.
In 2017, KTVA interviewed two former UCI workers who were impacted by the fumes. Chris Lovely and Steve Adams spoke about the long-term health effects they suffered, and shared a doctor’s letter that documented severe brain damage from hazardous exposure on the job.
Despite that, the men lost a civil lawsuit against Baker Hughes in 2018. The judge agreed that since the men had already received workers compensation from the contractor they worked for, they couldn’t sue the parent company Baker Hughes for further damages. The decision is now being appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.
In the state’s case, Baker Hughes, Inc., Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc., Baker Petrolite Corp. and John Clyde Willis are all facing charges of assault in both the third- and fourth-degree. The documents accuse them of recklessly causing physical injury to another person by means of a dangerous instrument — chemical vapors resulting in nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness — as well as criminal negligence for exposure to hazardous chemicals that caused long-term neurological damage.
A spokesperson for Baker Hughes provided the following statement Thursday afternoon:
“Baker Hughes is committed to safety, and operates its oil field services facility in Kenai in compliance with the law. We vigorously deny the claims made against us, and will exercise our right to present evidence that the allegations are without merit. We have confidence in the judicial system and that the full facts will be presented in court.”
Adams said Thursday he's still suffering from the effects of the exposure five years later. He's hopeful that justice will be served.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
RELATED NEWS COVERAGE: