Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tears in a bottle

Today is the 20th anniversary of my husband’s death. While I am committed to writing about things related to being green and raising kids in a healthy environment, please indulge me on this one day to write about a man who died way too young and about the company who was responsible.

There is a chemical plant on Neville Island in Pittsburgh that is constantly in trouble with local environmentalists. They don’t care. As a matter of fact, they don’t care about much at all, except the bottom line.

On September 9, 1989, my husband, Jim, and his co-worker and best friend, Doug, were working at their unit at the above mentioned plant. For some reason, which is suspect, the chemical tank they were operating shut down. As a result, there was a spill that released volatile fumes into the air. As Jim was cleaning up the spill, Doug went into the unit to call his supervisor. At that moment, a spark ignited the fumes and a fire ball crossed the surface and surrounded my 6’4” husband in its fiery embrace. Doug was unable to reach him as he heard his cries for help. A hero on the ground responded by getting a fire extinguisher, climbing up to the top of the unit where Jim was, hitting him with the extinguisher’s discharge and carrying him down to safety. This co-worker, who never wanted to be recognized for his heroism, suffered burns as well.

Jim was Life Flighted to West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh where he survived for 23 hours with third degree burns on 98% of his body. I will never forget the sight of him, nor the smell of burnt blood as it saturated sheets and dripped onto the floor.

The horror of it was only compounded by my having to tell my seven-year-old and five-year-old daughters that their daddy was never coming home.

A horrific accident like this…you would think the company would care. They pretended to. But when OSHA handed down a report three inches thick, their lawyers went to work. It was proven that the incident was 100% their fault. But since we live in Pennsylvania, I had no recourse. While people around me thought I’d at least be fairly compensated for the loss of my husband, I had to face the reality that would not be the case.

Had the investigations revealed a third-party was at fault, I’d probably be a millionaire. As it turns out, the Workers' Comp law in PA protects companies from being sued by injured workers or their families…even in the case of a fatal injury. The plus side of this law is that I did not have to go to work to support my children. Until the time I remarried, I was provided for with two-thirds of my husband’s salary and SSI. To me, that was nothing more than a slap on the wrist for the company who was responsible for my husband’s death. The OSHA report revealed that an electric box was located too close to the unit, which is suspected to have caused the spark that lit the fire.

The electric box has now been moved. The unit now has an alarm system. The workers now have regulations that require them to evacuate as soon as there is a spill. Hmm. Why weren’t these common sense factors in place prior to my husband’s death?

Was there follow up from the company? Did they care to check up on the kids as they were growing up? Of course not. The only follow up we had came from the Workers' Comp investigator who stopped by for his annual visit.

Forgive me if I’m coming across as bitter. Quite honestly, I rarely think about this, other than simply missing my husband. It just must be this anniversary. I wonder if anyone else remembers. Are Jim’s co-workers remembering him this day? Did one or two of them offer up a prayer for my girls and me?

Life is precious…and too often too short. Insidious diseases sometimes rob us of life. Drunk drivers veer into the wrong lane. Children ride their bicycles into the path of cars. Misled women choose not to give birth to their babies. People in despair end their own lives. Criminals, or jealous lovers, find ways to destroy others. The list goes on and on.

Death…it’s a part of life. But when it’s the result of someone else’s negligence and irresponsibility, it makes it just a tad harder to accept; especially when they cannot be held accountable.

That's why it's important that you take some time today to let the people you love know how you feel. Hug them extra tight. Say the words. Tomorrow it may be too late.

David writes in Psalm 56:8: You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle; are they not in Your book? God’s bottle must be awfully big, and there better be plenty of room for more. Tears are a given in life. Today, I’m going to let them fall.


  1. It is so hard to understand why God lets bad things happen to his children. But look at it this way. . . what could possibly be more wonderful than a life sitting beside God every single day forever more.

  2. Hana- my prayers are with you today. I can not imagine living in that situation. I am so sorry that you and your kids had to experience that horriable day, and that the company did not do what they knew they should have done. I know you know, but God took him on that day for a reason, and your husband is in no pain, and is experiencing God. What more could you want for the man that you love? I know that doesn't make you miss him any less, but I pray that it does give you peace.

    Blessings to you,


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