this photo is displayed on the CSB page summarizing its investigatoin of the August 2008 explosion at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va.

Big MIC Reduction Promised at Bayer CropScience Plant

Company officials announced Aug. 26 that the Institute, W.Va., plant will reduce its average inventory of highly toxic methyl isocyanate by 80 percent.

The Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and fire at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va., has been investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for the past year, and popular Charleston Gazette reporter/blogger Ken Ward has been after the company for its initial refusal to tell emergency dispatchers what had occurred. (Institute is an industrialized suburb of Charleston, the state capital.)

CSB Chairman John Bresland on Wednesday said his agency's investigation is now "examining options for Bayer to reduce or eliminate the use and storage of highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) at the Institute site" based on a May 2009 request from Congress. He was responding to an 80 percent MIC inventory reduction announced by Bayer CropScience officials as part of a $25 million investment "for further enhancing operational safety" at the plant. "As part of these plans, the company will reduce methyl isocyanate (MIC) storage by 80 percent. This reduction will lead to the elimination of the transfer, use and storage of MIC at the site's West Carbamoylation Center within approximately one year. After completion of these measures, there will be no MIC storage above ground anywhere on the site," Bayer CropScience said.

The company's statement quoted Bayer CropScience President & CEO Bill Buckner: "While MIC was not involved in the explosion at the Institute site in August last year, we have taken seriously the concerns of public officials and the site's neighbors, and we are making very substantial changes in how we operate our facility in the future."

The statement said changes made since the explosion include the hiring of an emergency services leader to interact with public emergency responders and new procedures, including dedicated phone lines and back-up radios, for communicating with Metro 911. Buckner said the site took part recently in a successful emergency drill with the Kanawha Putnam Emergency Planning Committee.

"Within approximately one year we also will cease production of all MIC-based products currently manufactured in the West Carbamoylation Center," he said. And the company will not reconstruct the methomyl facility. "To offset changes in Bayer CropScience's production, the industrial park will seek new tenants so to maintain a substantial business presence in the Kanawha Valley. Company officials said today they will work with state and federal officials to attract new businesses to the 465-acre site. The company aims at implementing these changes to the site's production with the least amount of impact on the employees," the statement said.

The two deaths were workers fatally injured when a waste tank containing the pesticide methomyl exploded, damaging a process unit at the plant. CSB focused on an MIC aboveground tank located about 80 feet from the waste tank that was hit by debris but not breached. Not full at the time, the MIC tank can hold 40,000 pounds of MIC, which would be devastating to the surrounding area if released.

"Any measures by Bayer to reduce the inventory of MIC at the facility are a positive development, provided that the safety and environmental risk is truly mitigated," Bresland said Wednesday. "If implemented in a careful and conscientious manner, the steps Bayer has outlined will lessen the risk to the public and the workforce from an uncontrolled release of MIC. . . . The CSB team will continue to examine the feasibility of switching to alternative chemicals or processes, as requested by Congress. Our final report should be ready for consideration in the first half of 2010, at which time I anticipate we will hold another public meeting in West Virginia. In the meantime, I urge Bayer to continue to pursue measures to improve the safety of the site. These include ensuring that operating procedures are up-to-date and are followed, that air monitoring systems are adequate and are functional, and that there is adequate staffing and training for all hazardous processes."

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