CSB Commissions Methyl Isocyanate Study

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is responding to a congressional mandate for a yearlong, $575,000 study by the National Academy of Sciences on how to reduce or eliminate the stockpile at Bayer CropScience's plant in Institute, W.Va.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Sept. 2 announced that the National Academy of Sciences has begun a study of how to reduce or eliminate the methyl isocyanate (MIC) that is stored at Bayer CropScience's plant in Institute, W.Va., where a 2008 explosion killed two employees and nearly damaged a tank holding MIC. Had that tank been breached, a release of the chemical might have been deadly in the industrial community that is near Charleston, West Virginia's capital.

Congress ordered CSB to conduct a yearlong, $575,000 study on reducing or eliminating the stockpile. MIC is the chemical released at Bhopal, India, in December 1984, from a pesticide plant then owned by Union Carbide. Union Carbide owned the Institute plant but sold it to Bayer in 2002.

Bayer is fulfilling a promise to reduce its MIC inventory by about 80 percent, but that will leave about 40,000 pounds of MIC stored underground at its plant on an ongoing basis, according to the board's task statement. EPA in August 2010 announced an agreement with Bayer to phase out production of aldicarb, one of two MIC-derived pesticides made at the plant; EPA last December banned carbofuran, another MIC derivative made in Institute.

"As long as MIC continues to be stored and used at the Bayer plant in any significant amount, the surrounding community and the workforce have a legitimate right to know whether everything possible has been done to reduce or eliminate the potential hazard," CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said. "We hope the National Academy study will serve as an important model for both Bayer and the rest of the chemical industry for how to assess and reduce toxic chemical hazards."

CSB has not yet completed its investigation of the root causes of the August 2008 explosion at the Bayer plant but said it is nearly complete and will be considered by the board at a public meeting in West Virginia this fall.

Moure-Eraso said the agreement between CSB and the National Academy "reflects the views and opinions of community, labor, environmental, and business leaders. It ensures a diverse study panel that will include independent community organizations, environmental justice interests, and workforce representatives, as well as the best experts from industry and academia. The study will carefully and independently examine the many benefits of safe technology choices –- including potentially reduced spending on compliance, liability, and emergency preparedness –- as well as the implementation costs involved. We hope the study benefits industry in its efforts to ensure the highest levels of process safety and provides Institute community members with effective tools to promote their well-being."

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