Press Release, October 9, 2008
Open Letter: Dismantle MIC tanks in Bayer´s Institute Plant
In a joint letter to Bayer CropScience the environmental groups People Concerned About MIC, Coalition against BAYER Dangers, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, WV Chapter Sierra Club and WV Young Democrats Environmental Caucus are urging Bayer to dismantle MIC and phosgene stockpiles in their Institute plant.
On August 28 an explosion at the plant rocked an area west of Charleston, hurling a fireball hundreds of feet into the air, killing one worker and injuring a second. Local emergency responders weren't sure what to do for several hours after the blast because Bayer refused crucial information. In case of a toxic release, thousands of residents would have been endangered.
See the complete letter:
To Nick Crosby, Institute Site Leader
Bayer CropScience LP
Institute, West Virginia 25112
Dear Mr. Crosby,
to eliminate risks of a Bhopal-type event happening in Institute, we, the signatory, are demanding that Bayer become an MIC and phosgene-free facility.
At Bayer's Institute plant, large quantities of highly toxic chemicals are produced. Among these chemicals are methyl isocyanate (MIC), the chemical that killed and injured over 100,000 in Bhopal, India, and phosgene, a nerve agent used in World War I.
Bayer reported to EPA that it stores between 100,000 and 999,999 pounds of MIC. This is two to twenty times the amount of MIC that caused the worst industrial accident in history in Bhopal, India in 1984. Institute, West Virginia is thus the only place in the United States where MIC is produced in large volumes. The plant accounts for 90% of stored MIC and 95% of MIC emissions in the US.
MIC is dangerous in concentrations lower than most humans can smell. It can kill or cause permanent injury if inhaled. In addition, between five and fifty tons of the toxic gas phosgene, a chemical weapon used during World War I, are stored. In the 1980s, German Bayer plants reduced volume storage of highly toxic agents like phosgene and MIC. A 1994 worst-case scenario analysis determined that in the event of a Maximum Credible Accident (MCA), cases of fatal poisoning could occur over a radius of nearly ten miles.
Including the most current event, the plant has a long history of accidents and leaks in which several workers were injured and killed, and hundreds of residents had to be treated in hospitals (see partial list attached). Bayer inherited this legacy from Union Carbide, Rhone-Poulenc, and Aventis when it purchased the Institute facility in 2001. Even though the names have changed, community concern and lack of corporate responsibility remain the same.
On December 28, 2007, several drums containing the pesticide thiodicarb burst. Several residents had to be treated for respiratory problems. Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper criticized Bayer's handling of the spill: "The notification was just absolutely abysmal from Bayer. Information given to the first responders was so inadequate that no one knew totally what to do". The company played down the incident and spoke of an "unpleasant smell", with no health hazards. Thiodicarb, however, is one of the most dangerous pesticides in existence. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the substance as extremely toxic. Thiodicarb has been banned in the European Union.
Now again, following the August 28th explosion, Bayer refused crucial information. Local emergency responders weren't sure what to do for several hours after the blast. In case of a toxic release, thousands of residents would have been endangered. Mike Dorsey, emergency response director for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said that "small amounts" of MIC are stored in an above-ground tank located just 50 to 75 feet from the explosion site. This is too close for our comfort.
Bayer not only endangered the lives of thousands of Kanawha Valley residents, it endangered the lives of plant workers and the emergency responders who attended to the explosion. Refusing crucial information to emergency responders prevented immediate and necessary health care to Bill Oxley, the worker who was severely burned in the explosion. By not decontaminating Mr. Oxley prior to transporting him to CAMC, Bayer put the lives of the ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors and other people inside the CAMC emergency room in potential grave danger.
Bayer has not yet provided any information regarding possible risks from this explosion to agencies responsible for answering to public concern. These agencies include the Poison Control Center, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the Department of Agriculture.
Bayer's actions to these recent events are inexcusable, intolerable, and exhibit vast irresponsibility to the communities surrounding the plant.
On behalf of the students, faculty and staff of West Virginia State University; the staff and constituents of the West Virginia Rehabilitation Center; the workers at the Institute facility and local emergency responders and the residents of the Kanawha Valley, we are demanding the Bayer Institute plant, like it's German plants, becomes a MIC and phosgene-free facility, and change the way residue from the Larvin unit is stored.
People Concerned About MIC (Kanawha Valley) www.peopleconcernedaboutmic.com
CONTACT: Maya Nye, spokesperson, 304-389-6859 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany) www.CBGnetwork.org
West Virginia Citizen Action Group (Charleston, WV) www.wvcag.org
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (Ohio Valley) www.ohvec.org
WV Chapter Sierra Club (West Virginia) http://westvirginia.sierraclub.org
WV Young Democrats Environmental Caucus (West Virginia)
October 9, 2008; The Charleston Gazette
Bayer apologizes for poor communications
INSTITUTE, W.Va. - Bayer CropScience's plant manager apologized to Institute residents Wednesday night, conceding for the first time that company officials botched their communications with local emergency responders after the Aug. 28 fire and explosion that killed one Bayer worker.
"I'm sorry," said plant manager Nick Crosby. "We fell short."
Crosby said Bayer did not give local emergency crews or Institute-area residents enough detail in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, a move that firefighters and others complained later hampered their response.
"We could have communicated, and we should have communicated, much better with the community that night," Crosby said.
Crosby spoke during a 90-minute community meeting sponsored by the Institute-Pinewood-West Dunbar Sub-area Community Improvement Council, a Bayer-sponsored group that says it works to improve plant-community relations.
Crosby and other Bayer officials had refused to attend an earlier community meeting on the Aug. 28 incident sponsored by the local citizen group People Concerned About MIC.
And Wednesday's meeting, held at the West Virginia State University student union, was closely scripted by Charles Ryan Associates and Ann Green Communications, public relations firms hired by Bayer CropScience.
Attendees were told they had to sign in before entering the meeting room, and instructed that they had to register at least 15 minutes before the meeting if they wanted to speak. Publicists from the two firms monitored who was signing up to speak and what topics they wanted to discuss.
Also, citizens were allowed only to ask questions. No comments or statements from members of the public were allowed.
When several residents tried to offer comments or follow-up questions, an Ann Green publicist passed scribbled notes to Community Improvement Council Chairman Walter Greenhowe, who then interrupted and said such actions weren't permitted.
"Please let it be a question, instead of a bunch of statements," Greenhowe said.
Outside the meeting room, several People Concerned About MIC members held up signs and posters encouraging attendees to remember Bhopal, the 1984 chemical leak that killed thousands at the Institute facility's sister plant in India.
Just before the meeting, People Concerned About MIC and five other groups released a letter they sent to Bayer, demanding that the company eliminate storage of large amounts of the toxic chemical methyl isocyanate, or MIC, from the Institute plant.
Crosby conceded that other Bayer plants in Germany don't store large amounts of MIC, and instead make the deadly chemical as they needed it.
But those plants use MIC for only one process, he said. At Institute, MIC is used in several different pesticide units, and plant officials have long argued that it's too complex to make MIC for each as it's needed.
Crosby said that Bayer typically keeps a two- to three-day supply on MIC on hand, but refused to say how much of the chemical that amounts to.
Bayer reported to federal authorities that it stores an average of between 100,000 and 999,999 pounds of MIC on site every day. Previous plant owners have but the exact amount at closer to 250,000 pounds, or more than four times the amount that leaked at Bhopal.
The letter to Crosby cited a list of previous incidents at the Institute plant, including one in December 2007 that prompted similar complaints about the lack of public notification.
"Bayer's actions to these recent events are inexcusable, intolerable and exhibit vast irresponsibility to the communities surrounding the plant," the letter said.
In the Aug. 28 incident, one Bayer worker was killed and another seriously injured when an explosion and fire ripped through a unit that makes the pesticide Larvin. Thousands of area residents were advised to take shelter in their homes because of possible fumes from the fire.
For at least two hours after the 10:25 p.m. blast, Bayer repeatedly refused to give Kanawha County emergency officials details about what had occurred.
Crosby said Wednesday night that Bayer has designated new site security leaders responsible for notifying emergency response officials of incidents. Company officials have rewritten their emergency plan to provide "an increased level of detail" to Metro 911 dispatchers, Crosby said.
Crosby also revealed that plant workers noticed an increase in pressure inside the chemical waste tank where the explosion occurred, and had been working to fix the problem. He did not say how long the over-pressure had been going on before the blast.
"They knew there was something going on, but they couldn't figure out what," Crosby said. By Ken Ward Jr.