CSB Releases Safety Video Detailing Bayer CropScience Explosion

The video features a detailed computer animation showing how a series of errors and deficiencies during a lengthy startup process resulted in a runaway chemical reaction inside a residue treater pressure vessel.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a new safety video depicting events leading to the Aug. 28, 2008, catastrophic explosion and fire at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute, W.Va., that fatally injured two workers.

The video is entitled “Fire in the Valley,” a reference to the Kanawha River valley where numerous chemical facilities are located, including the Bayer plant that manufactures insecticides, near Charleston, W.Va.

The video features a detailed computer animation showing how a series of errors and deficiencies during a lengthy startup process resulted in a runaway chemical reaction inside a residue treater pressure vessel. CSB’s investigation found that operators were not adequately trained, new computer process equipment had not been fully checked out, and a critical safety interlock was bypassed to begin a chemical reaction.

Investigations Supervisor John Vorderbrueggen, P.E., said, “We found serious deficiencies in the company’s process safety management program. This resulted in a series of critical omissions during the startup that led to a runaway reaction and violent explosion.”

These events contributed to the over pressurization of the residue treater which ultimately exploded and careened into the methomyl pesticide manufacturing unit, leaving a huge fireball in its wake. Pieces of the vessel struck a steel-mesh covering surrounding a large tank of methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic chemical of concern to residents of the valley since 1984 when an accidental release of MIC in Bhopal, India, killed thousands.

In the video, CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The communities surrounding Bayer CropScience have been concerned for decades about the MIC stored there. Its presence added even more gravity to the series of safety lapses the CSB investigation found to have preceded the tragedy. And when the accident occurred, the company refused to give out critical information to responders and the public.”

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