CSB Outlines Study on Methyl Isocyanate

An additional study on inherently safer process technology may follow this one by the National Academy of Sciences specifically looking at how to reduce the risk of methyl isocyanate at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va.

Congress appropriated $600,000 last year for a study of safer alternatives to methyl isocyanate (MIC) used at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va., where an explosion and fire on Aug. 28, 2008, killed two workers. Chairman John Bresland of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) said the blast could have ruptured the MIC tank located 80 feet away, potentially unleashing a gas cloud like the one at Bhopal in 1984.

Although Bayer CropScience is now reducing its inventory of the chemical by 80 percent, the study is still needed because an airborne release of the chemical, which is highly toxic by inhalation, remains possible, CSB said in a notice explaining what the National Academy of Sciences will investigate. CSB also seeks public comments by May 10 on whether it should fund a second, related study of inherently safer technology (IST) alternatives to other high-volume toxic chemicals -- a hot topic for chemical manufacturers as the U.S. Senate considers a reauthorization of CFATS, the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards program run by DHS. Chemical manufacturing trade associations support Senate Bill 2996, which would not require covered facilities to use IST.

Written comments should identify docket number CSB-10-01 in the subject line and may be e-mailed to nascomments@csb.gov.

The National Academy of Sciences study will examine the use and storage of MIC at the Bayer CropScience facility, where the chemical is used in the production of pesticides, and it will review and evaluate the state of the art in inherently safer process assessments and implementation. The NAS expert panel will provide guidance on best practices for IST process assessments, metrics, and cost evaluation and will identify the best possible approaches for eliminating or reducing the use of MIC at the Bayer CropScience by substitution of less hazardous intermediates, intensifying existing manufacturing processes, or consuming MIC simultaneously with its production. A final report should be finished within a year, the notice states.

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