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Emergency Whistle Gets First Test at Carbice MIC Plant

February 20, 1985

INSTITUTE, W.Va. (AP) _ Officials Wednesday conducted the first test of an emergency whistle at the Union Carbide Corp. plant here, where production of methyl isocyanate was suspended after the chemical killed at least 2,000 people in India.

Officials said the test - a result of concerns prompted by the December leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India - was heard by volunteers up to six miles away. But some people nearby said they heard nothing, and others said they had trouble telling the whistle from other sounds at the sprawling plant.

Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson has said the plant, the only domestic manufacturer of methyl isocyanate, will resume producing the chemical in April.

The steam whistle, which had been at the plant before the leak but not sounded for fear of alarming residents, was set off for two minutes around 10 a.m. in what Ed Kivett of the Kanawha Valley Emergency Planning Council called its first test.

Kivett said he was pleased with preliminary responses. Volunteers with citizens band radios reported hearing the intermittent blasts up to six miles away, he said.

But some of those reporting said they had to turn off their televisions and radios and be perfectly quiet or else had to go outside to hear the whistle. Their reports were audible to reporters at the plant.

Some students at West Virginia State College a quarter-mile downwind said the low, throaty whistle wasn’t loud enough.

″It just sounds like any other whistle,″ said sophomore Bobby Jo Cottrell, 18. ″I thought it was supposed to be something that really stood out.″

Kendra Augustine, 20, a sophomore, said she knew about the test and was on campus when it began. Still, she said, she heard nothing out of the ordinary.

″Maybe I wasn’t paying attention,″ she said.

Kivett said the whistle is designed to notify ″the community right adjacent to the plant.″

In a real emergency, he said, area fire stations, police departments and other offices would have sounded their own alarms.

″In a real emergency, it’s reasonable to assume everyone would be activating their sirens to get people’s attention,″ said Kivett, safety manager at the Carbide plant. ″Out in the county, there would have been no doubt.″

Local radio and television stations broadcast an emergency message during the test, and state police moved into position to block highways leading to the area.

Kivett said the hills surrounding the plant blocked the whistle in some directions while funneling the sound in others. He said it was heard by monitors six miles east and four miles west, but the sound traveled only a mile or so to the north and south.

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