State files felony charges against Baker Hughes after Kenai Peninsula workers were sickened

The state of Alaska has filed felony criminal charges against an oil field services company on the Kenai Peninsula.

An Anchorage grand jury indicted Baker Hughes and John Clyde Willis on Wednesday on 25 felony counts of assault.

The charges come five years after workers on a construction crew for UIC Construction became ill and were treated at a medical facility after working at a Baker Hughes facility near Nikiski.

Workers on that crew attributed their illnesses to exposure to toxic chemical releases. They allege that Baker Hughes, its subsidiaries, and Willis — a manager for a Baker Hughes facility — didn’t respond to their complaints about being exposed to chemicals and didn’t give them the safety information they needed about which chemicals were being used on the job site while they were working.

The state’s district attorney charges that companies, and Willis, recklessly caused injury to Christopher Lovely, Steven Adams, Robert Defoe, Charles VanCuren and Dustin Leavitt by exposing them to toxic gases. That exposure may have caused everything from headaches and respiratory distress to long-term neurological damage, according to the indictment.

A company spokesperson at Baker Hughes sent an email in response to questions about how the company will respond to the indictment and the allegations contained in it.

Stephanie Cathcart wrote that Baker Hughes denies the claims against it and is committed to safety.

If convicted, the company and its subsidiaries face fines of up to $2.5 million for the most serious charges. Willis faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the most serious charges.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

Previous articleAlaska’s sales pitch: Vast resources and a melting Arctic
Next articleUS military exercises come with indications of a growing Navy presence in Alaska