That leak of aldicarb oxime sent 135 to the hospital, but the national media poured into the Kanawha Valley because the same plant produced methyl isocyanate, the chemical that eight months earlier had killed 2,500 people in Bhopal, India.
That leak was different from the recent incident in that its impact was limited to Institute and parts of Dunbar, and it posed a health risk for hours, not days. However, for more than a week afterward, it was impossible to watch a network TV newscast or read a newspaper anywhere in the country without having Charleston and "deadly MIC" in the same sentence.
("Nightline," the popular ABC-TV nightly news program of the time, did an entire episode from Charleston on the chemical leak.)
Surprisingly, I did not recall, nor could I find any articles about concerns the negative national publicity could have on Charleston's tourism and convention business.
Of course, that was a different era. There was no Internet or social media (other than, perhaps, the landline telephone), and there was only one cable news channel, not a half-dozen.
Charleston also had only a fraction of the amenities it has today to attract convention business. There was no Clay Center, no Power Park, and no historic downtown shopping district, with downtown having been hard-hit by the recent opening of the Charleston Town Center. And there was only one upscale convention hotel, with the Charleston House and Heart of Town well past their prime by that time.
Speaking of, after that formaldehyde scare, it has been suggested that it would be a great public health service to eliminate a source of exposure to high levels of formaldehyde in four of the nine affected counties (Boone, Clay, Logan and Putnam) by passing ordinances prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants in those localities.
Finally, the Gazette reporter who covered the 1985 Carbide leak had been assigned the unofficial chemical leak beat at the paper not because of any special expertise or experience, but because of his name.
When word of a chemical leak prior to the Aug. 11 event came across the police scanner (chemical plant incidents were commonplace back then), city editor Nelson Sorah looked around the newsroom to see which reporter he would send to the scene, and being that he had a quirky sense of humor, gave the assignment to Norman Oder.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.