March 14, 2009, Charleston Gazette
Meeting set to probe August explosion at Bayer plant in Institute
Kanawha Valley residents will get a chance to hear from -- and speak to -- the federal Chemical Safety Board about safety problems at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha Valley residents will get a chance to hear from - and speak to - the federal Chemical Safety Board about safety problems at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.
The board announced Friday it has rescheduled a public meeting on the August explosion and fire that killed two Bayer workers.
Board members set the meeting for April 23.
The announcement comes after the board called off a previous meeting, which had been scheduled for later this month, under pressure from Bayer to keep details of the board's investigation from the public.
"This was a serious accident, which claimed the lives of two workers and had a significant impact on the surrounding community," said board Chairman John Besland.
The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the West Virginia State University Wilson Building Multipurpose Room on the Institute campus.
Following the presentation of the board's preliminary findings, a panel of outside witnesses will be invited to speak on issues related to the accident, the board said in a news release.
"We are pleased to know that the CSB has rescheduled the meeting and look forward to expressing our comments in hopes of informing the remainder of the investigation," said Maya Nye, a leader of the group People Concerned About MIC.
Tom Dover, a Bayer spokesman, said the company would also attend the meeting.
The board is an independent federal agency that investigates industrial accidents and recommends reforms. Board investigators don't issue citations or fines.
Just one day after the deadly Aug. 28 explosion at Bayer, Bresland promised a broad investigation of what caused the fire, emergency response failings by Bayer and other plant safety issues.
But Bayer objected to a planned public meeting after board investigators began looking into the potentially unsafe location of a methyl isocyanate tank within 50 to 75 feet of the explosion site. Company lawyers cited an obscure Coast Guard rule they said prohibited the disclosure of such information.
Board members initially backed off, canceling the public meeting. Now, Bresland says the board is going to go ahead with the meeting, but will run its report by the Coast Guard first to ensure that any confidential information is protected. By Ken Ward Jr.
Friday, March 13 2009
Energy and Commerce Committee Announces Investigation into Bayer CropScience Explosion
The Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bart Stupak announced an investigation into the August 28, 2008, explosion at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute, West Virginia. The Oversight Subcommittee will be holding a hearing on Thursday, April 23, 2009, to examine the causes of the accident, the adequacy of the response, and the scope of the information provided to the first responders, employees, and the public.
February 25, 2009, The Charleston Gazette
Board cancels hearing under Bayer pressure
Public meeting was for discussion of MIC storage
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Under pressure from Bayer CropScience, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has canceled a public meeting where it planned to brief Kanawha Valley residents on its investigation of the August explosion that killed two Institute plant workers.
Board members had scheduled the meeting for March 19, and intended to discuss concerns about a methyl isocyanate tank located near the site of the deadly blast.
Two weeks ago, Bayer lawyers warned board members and agency staff that the company felt such information should not be discussed in a public forum.
Bayer lawyers cited an obscure maritime law that was intended to keep confidential documents prepared by Bayer for the specific purpose of deterring terrorist attacks on the Institute plant's barge loading facility.
John Bresland, the chemical board's chairman, said this week that his agency decided to call off the public meeting while it looks into Bayer's confidentiality claims.
"We decided it would be better to postpone the meeting and get this issue clarified," Bresland said in a Monday phone interview.
But chemical plant safety advocates were shocked by the board's decision. They said it raises concerns that the industry has discovered a new legal loophole that company attorneys may try to exploit to derail detailed investigations of plant accidents.
"We would hope that this does not become a precedent," said Rick Hind, who follows chemical safety issues for Greenpeace.
Maya Nye, a leader of the local group People Concerned about MIC, said this week, "I don't understand why this is top-secret information. But this seems to be consistent with Bayer's lack of communication with the community."
Robert C. Gombar, a Washington, D.C., attorney for Bayer, did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Tom Dover, Bayer's Institute plant spokesman, declined to answer detailed questions about the company's dealings with the Chemical Safety Board.
Word of the board's action comes as Saturday's deadline nears for another federal agency, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to issue any citations for violations it found related to the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and fire. Under federal law, OSHA has six months from the date it starts an investigation to issue citations.
Plant worker Barry Withrow was killed in the explosion and a second employee, Bill Oxley, died about six weeks later at a burn center in Pittsburgh. Thousands of residents between South Charleston and the Putnam County line were advised to take shelter in their homes.
The explosion occurred in a unit where Bayer makes methomyl, which it then uses to produce Larvin, the company's brand name of the insecticide thiodicarb.
But the Institute plant is best known for its production and use of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, the chemical that killed thousands of people in a leak from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in December 1984.
Bayer uses MIC to make methomyl, and the methomyl unit includes a tank that can hold up to 40,000 pounds of MIC, according to company disclosures filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That storage tank is located 50 to 75 feet from the location of the August explosion, according to state and federal inspectors.
Safety board investigators were looking into that tank, and asking Bayer questions about whether it was in an unsafe location or had appropriate safety devices.
Among the board's questions, Bresland said this week, was, "Should it be in that location or more remote from where there would be a potential explosion?
"That is certainly something we would be looking into," Bresland said.
But Bayer lawyers told safety board officials at a Feb. 12 meeting that any information about MIC handling and storage was protected from public disclosure under the Coast Guard's rules to implement the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act. But that law and the Coast Guard's rules appear to apply only to reports and data specifically put together by Bayer in planning its facility security plans.
Dover, the Bayer spokesman, confirmed that the company believes the Institute plant is covered by the Coast Guard rules. Dover added that there is information in the plant's security plant that the Coast Guard believes should not be released.
But Dover declined to offer any examples of what information he was talking about, or to explain what information the chemical board might have made public from the plant's security plan.
Dover referred further questions to the Coast Guard, but officials there did not respond to requests for comment.
Paul Orum, a longtime chemical industry watchdog in Washington, said he would be very surprised if Coast Guard regulations protected the kind of information the chemical board planned to share with the public.
"I don't know of any basis for what they're claiming," Orum said.
Bresland said Bayer officials also expressed concern about possible negative media coverage from a public meeting, and worried the meeting would veer into a broader debate over the Institute plant's storage of large amounts of MIC.
"They realized that a public meeting would have some negative consequences for Bayer," Bresland said.
Internally, chemical safety board officials were already discussing whether their probe should include an examination of the longstanding issues over MIC stockpiles at the Institute facility.
Bayer reports to EPA that it stores between 100,000 and 999,999 pounds of MIC at the plant. And for years, local and international activists have urged various plant owners to reduce that stockpile, as other chemical makers and some other Bayer facilities have done.
The major MIC storage tanks are underground and on the other side of the plant from where the August explosion occurred. Those tanks store an average of about 200,000 pounds of the chemical, according to EPA documents.
But Fred Millar, another longtime chemical company watchdog, wondered whether Bayer should have the smaller MIC tank located above ground near the methomyl unit that blew up in August.
"It feels like you've got a situation where the plant was caught with its pants down, and there's a questionable practice of storing this methyl isocyanate far too close to a dangerous reactive chemical unit," Millar said Tuesday. "This is no time for the Chemical Safety Board to be delaying talking about this to the public." By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer
March 10, 2009 Chemical and Engineering News
Terrorism Fears Top Public Information
Chemical company pressure drives Chemical Safety Board to cancel public meeting on fatal accident
IN EARLY FEBRUARY, the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was deep into planning for a March 19 public meeting in Institute, W.Va. The meeting would give the board and community a chance to discuss events surrounding a deadly accident at the Bayer CropScience facility in the Kanawha Valley.
It would be similar to many meetings held in the past by the independent board and is part of CSB's process to investigate and find the root cause of chemical accidents. At that time, the board was about halfway through its investigation of the Aug. 28, 2008, fire and explosion at the Bayer plant that killed two workers and shut down the plant's production of Larvin, an insecticide.
CSB had intended to hear community concerns, gather more information on the accident, and inform residents of the status of its investigation. However, Bayer attorneys contacted CSB Chairman John Bresland and set up a Feb. 12 conference at the board's Washington, D.C., headquarters. There, they warned CSB not to reveal details of the accident or the facility's layout at the community meeting.
"This is where it gets a little strange," Bresland tells C&EN. To justify their request, Bayer attorneys cited the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, an antiterrorism law that requires companies with plants on waterways to develop security plans to minimize the threat of a terrorist attack. Part of the plans can be designated as "sensitive security information" that can be disseminated only on a "need-to-know basis." Enforcement of the act is overseen by the Coast Guard and covers some 3,200 facilities, including 320 chemical and petrochemical facilities. Among those facilities is the Bayer plant.
Bayer argued that CSB's planned public meeting could reveal sensitive plant-specific security information, Bresland says, and therefore would be a violation of the maritime transportation law. The board got cold feet and canceled the meeting.
Bresland contends that CSB wasn't agreeing with Bayer, but says it was better to put off the meeting then to hold it and be unable to answer questions posed by the public.
The board then met with Coast Guard officials, Bresland says, and formally canceled the community meeting. The outcome of the Coast Guard meeting remains murky. It is unclear what role the Coast Guard might have in editing or restricting release of future CSB reports of accidents at covered facilities, the board says. "This could really cause difficulties for us," Bresland says. "We could find ourselves hemming and hawing about what actually happened in an accident."
Lisa K. Novak, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, tells C&EN that a review of CSB's reports is not being considered at this time and the Coast Guard will continue to work with CSB to reach a process by which "transparency can be sustained without undue compromise of national security information."
BRESLAND PREDICTS that this will be sorted out as CSB prepares and releases the Bayer report next summer. Among the 49 investigations that the board has completed, this is the first public meeting canceled for security reasons or due to company pressure. It raises questions about whether terrorism fears can be used to blunt CSB accident investigations. Although the board has no regulatory authority, its accident reports and videos have had wide influence on companies encouraging them to improve their safety performance, eliminate dangerous practices, and better control use of toxic chemicals.
In this case, Bayer's history of use and storage of toxic reactive chemicals has galvanized community concern, says Maya Nye, spokeswoman for People Concerned About MIC, a West Virginia community group made up of residents living near the Kanawha Valley plant. Nye and the group want Bayer to phase out its use of methyl isocyanate (MIC).
The community group selected its name when it was formed more than 20 years ago, after the 1984 Union Carbide accident involving MIC at a plant in Bhopal, India, that killed some 5,000 people and injured 200,000.
At that time, the facility in Institute was also owned by Union Carbide and was a sister to the Bhopal plant. Both stored large quantities of MIC.
Over the years, the Institute plant changed hands several times and in 2002 was purchased by Bayer. Throughout this time, MIC was stored at the facility, much to the chagrin of Nye and others in the community.
According to Bayer plant data filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, the company stores up to 1.4 million lb of chlorine and ammonia, 19,000 lb of phosgene, and 240,000 lb of MIC on-site. Of the total MIC stored, the data shows that up to 40,000 lbs can be stored for use in the same process line that exploded last year. Bayer's total storage of MIC at this 50-year-old plant greatly exceeds what was leaked at Bhopal, and the amount stored in the Larvin process is quite near Bhopal levels. That makes community residents, chemical engineers, emergency responders, and plant workers nervous.
A public CSB meeting, Nye says, would give the community information on the accident and what CSB has learned. "We want to know what is going on. Are we safe or not?" she says. Of particular concern, she adds, are the contents of a plume residents saw emerge from the accident site.
WITHIN WEEKS of the accident, Nye says her group organized a community forum in which local and federal officials participated, but representatives of Bayer did not appear; instead, the company submitted a statement. Nye says Bayer has held one meeting to explain the accident, but it was closely controlled by a public relations firm hired by the company. She calls Bayer's secrecy "absolutely phenomenal."
In a letter to CSB, Nye and a dozen community groups urged the board to hold the public meeting. The letter charges that the postponement is a "political act" and represents a voluntary exit by CSB in the national debate to encourage chemical companies to shift to inherently safer design technologies.
Despite repeated requests, Bayer would not respond to direct questions about the accident from C&EN, nor would the company discuss its storage and use of MIC. Instead, Greg Coffee, a company spokesman, offered a statement, saying Bayer has and will continue to cooperate fully with CSB regarding the August accident at Institute.
"All decisions concerning the public meeting were made entirely by the CSB and Bayer has no influence on the content or the timing of the board's activities," Coffee said. "The safe operation of the facility and the safety of our employees and the community remain our highest priority and as such we intend to fully comply with all laws and regulations such as those administered by federal Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard.
"MIC was not involved in the August incident, and inventory of the material is kept to a minimum and the site contains multiple layers of safeguards to ensure safety and security of MIC," Coffee said.
The company also said it has worked with local emergency responders to improve emergency communications.
Bresland explains that the accident occurred during a process start-up in a tank holding methomyl and a mix of other chemicals. Methomyl along with MIC is reformulated to make Larvin.
The CSB investigation, Bresland says, is examining MIC's use and the location of an MIC storage tank near the tank that exploded. "As it turns out," he says, "there wasn't a release from the MIC tank, but there could have been. So the question that comes up is, what was the potential for a release of MIC?"
CSB is also concerned with two other matters, Bresland adds. The first is finding the root cause of the explosion, which is part of the board's charge. The second issue is Bayer's unwillingness to supply specific accident information to emergency responders when the accident occurred.
The accident took place about 10:30 PM and a tape of the 911 calls between plant officials and emergency responders shows that a plant guard would not identify where in the facility the accident had occurred or which chemicals or processes were involved.
Even when calling for an ambulance, the guard refused to reveal the extent of the accident despite repeated questions from an exasperated county emergency services official. Eventually county officials called for shelter-in-place for several thousand people living near the plant.
As a result of Bayer's unwillingness to aid emergency responders, the West Virginia Legislature is considering a new law that would require companies to immediately report accident details to emergency responders. Heightening concern among the Institute community and area emergency responders alike is the storage of large quantities of MIC and fears of a Bhopal-like tragedy.
FOLLOWING THE Bhopal accident, many companies phased out MIC storage and shifted to a process that formulates and uses MIC immediately in other processes, notes Trevor Kletz, who is considered the father of inherently safer process design. After working as a manager and chemical engineer for 38 years with Imperial Chemical Industries, he now writes and lectures on the topic.
The goal for inherently safer design, Kletz notes, is to reduce stored quantities or eliminate use of toxic materials, such as phosgene, ethylene oxide, chlorine, or MIC.
Kletz explains that their reactive nature makes these chemicals invaluable as chemical production intermediates but they should be created and used as quickly as possible.
"If you make an intermediate and immediately send it down the pipeline to another process, the worst that can happen is a break in a pipeline and that can be stopped by closing one valve. In the case of Bhopal, it would have been a leak measured in kilograms rather than tons," he says.
Since the 9/11 attacks, Kletz believes the case for eliminating storage and use of toxic materials is even stronger. "Now we are worried about terrorists being able to place a bomb in a factory where it can have maximum effect," he adds.
Kletz notes that toxic and reactive chemicals cannot always be eliminated-it depends on the particular production process. He is supported in this view by several other chemical engineers interviewed by C&EN.
However, as Daniel A. Crowl, Herbert H. Dow Professor for Chemical Process Safety at Michigan Technological University, notes, "If companies didn't have this inventory, they wouldn't have the terrorist concern."
In many cases, Crowl says that on-site storage of large quantities of toxic chemicals is due to "sloppy inventory keeping.
"If a company runs a tight plant and has a rigorous and disciplined management system, it can literally produce MIC and use it up on the spot," Crowl says. "They could have done this in Bhopal. The technology has been around since the 1960s."
ONE COMPANY that has done this is DuPont. Within months of the Bhopal accident,
DuPont ended on-site MIC storage at its facility in LaPorte, Texas, that makes the insecticide Lannate. Until that time, the DuPont plant had been buying MIC from the Union Carbide's Institute plant and transporting the material to LaPorte for storage and use.
According to a DuPont report, its engineers developed and deployed an "inherently safe, point-of-use process" to create MIC, based on air oxidation of monomethyl formamide (MMF), a nonhazardous material that was made in a DuPont facility in West Virginia and shipped to Texas. The MIC unit sits next to the Lannate unit, the engineers wrote, and the only MIC onsite is in a short transfer line. DuPont accomplished this shift within six months, including creating an MMF production line. For this effort, DuPont's team of chemical engineers received a 2003 Industrial Innovation Award from the American Chemical Society.
CSB will push ahead with its accident report, Bresland says, and expects to issue it by summer. He is unsure what role the Coast Guard may play in reviewing it.
The accident has brought the Bayer plant onto the radar screen of at least one other federal agency. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration issued a $143,000 fine on Feb. 26 based on its examination of the conditions that led to the accident.
One day later, EPA fined Bayer $112,000 and announced a $900,000 agreement to settle a wide range of violations that were revealed in inspections conducted between 1999 and 2001. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency had been negotiating with Bayer over the years and the timing of the fines and settlement was a "coincidence." Jeff Johnson, With reporting by Rochelle F. H. Bohaty.
March 3, 2009
Open Letter to CSB chairman John Bresland
John Bresland, Chairman/CEO
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
2175 K. Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20037-1809
Dear Chariman Bresland:
With the support of numerous international groups, I write to you on behalf of my community and as the spokesperson for People Concerned About M.I.C. to beseech you to hold a timely public hearing regarding the preliminary results of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) investigation into the August 28, 2008 explosion at the Bayer CropScience facility in our community of Institute, West Virginia.
As you are well aware, our community is gravely concerned about the events that occurred that night as well as the lack of corporate accountability to our community that has been consistently displayed with this facility.
The Bayer CropScience Institute, WV facility is the only facility in the United States that stockpiles methyl isocyanate (MIC) at levels that far exceed the amount that caused over 200,000 injuries and deaths in Bhopal, India. If the facility was using an inherently safer technology that eliminates MIC storage like has been used by other plants for years (such as the DuPont plant in Belle, WV), they would have no reason to protect themselves against the same set of laws from which they run.
A CSB postponement of a planned community meeting for longer than even two weeks, we feel, is bound to be widely seen as due to corporate pressure exerted by Bayer on extremely dubious grounds, and thus not a neutral act. In fact, such a postponement will no doubt be seen by many observers, like it or not, as a significant political act, a hasty and voluntary exit of CSB from the ongoing national debate on IST to which the Board, given its intentionally broad legislative mandate to lead nationally in chemical accident prevention issues, ought to be eager to contribute its expertise and experience.
Surely a public airing of the Boards preliminary, current state of knowledge about the facts of the incident, and of the significant siting and other issues these facts pose for the Boards consideration, is not only frequent Board practice, but also entirely in line with the publics right to know (expressed in two Congressional laws from 1986 and 1990) and with the principle of transparency in government. The burden of proof ought to be clearly on those who wish to withhold information from the Board or the public perhaps in a unique and precedent-setting way to prove conclusively that they have a right to do so.
In light of these details, it is more important than ever to hold a public hearing to inform the remainder of the investigation. We realize that methyl isocyanate (MIC) is not the only chemical being produced and stockpiled by this facility. However, the level of secrecy being upheld by Bayer regarding MIC leads us to believe that the safety of their processes is more in question than the company cares to admit. As evidenced by the OSHA citations, the gross negligence by which the methomyl unit has been operated for a number of years presents even greater concerns regarding the health and safety for the workers and other members of our community. We deserve to the right to know in a timely manner what is happening in our community that could have such major effects on our health and safety. We also deserve the right to tell you our concerns and so inform the reminder of this investigation.
My mother always told me, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. On February 10th, I was notified by your office of the intent to hold a public hearing on the preliminary results from the August 28th explosion investigation. The conversation lent itself to discussion on community concerns we would like see addressed in the public hearing. I would like to commend your organization for including this step of involving the community in a process that affects us on a very personal level. It is this same level of professionalism and corporate accountability we seek from Bayer yet to this day have not received.
We would like to thank you for your leadership on this precedent setting issue.
Maya Nye, Spokesperson
People Concerned About MIC, Kanawha Valley, WV
www.peopleconcernedaboutmic.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
John David, Director
Southern Appalachian Labor School, P.O. Box 127 Kincaid, WV 25119
(304) 442-3157 | www.sals.info | email@example.com
Gary Zuckett, Executive Director
West Virginia Citizen Action Group, 1500 Dixie St., Charleston, WV, 25311
304-346-5891 | www.wvcag.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
Danny Chiotos, President
West Virginia Environmental Council (West Virginia)
2206 Washington Street East - Charleston, WV 25311
(304) 414-0143 | www.wvecouncil.org | DSGJr@aol.com
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, PO Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753
304-522-0246 | www.ohvec.org | email@example.com
Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany)
www.CBGnetwork.org | CBGnetwork@aol.com
Fax: (+49) 211-333 940 Tel: (+49) 211-333 911
Shana Blustein Ortman, US Coordinator
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal | www.bhopal.net/
Students for Bhopal | www.studentsforbhopal.org/
415-981-6205 ext. 355 – office | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tammy Miser, President/Executive Director
United Support & Memorial For Workplace Fatalities (USMWF)
2837 Yellowstone PKWY, Lexington, KY 40517
859-266-5646 | email@example.com | http://www.usmwf.org
Rick Hind, Legislative Director
Greenpeace, 702 H Street, NW #300, Washington, DC 20001
(202) 462-1177 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.greenpeaceusa.org
Jay Feldman, Executive Director
Beyond Pesticides, 701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
http://www.beyondpesticides.org | email@example.com
(202) 543-5450 | fax (202) 543-4791
Rick Engler, Director
New Jersey Work Environment Council
142 West State Street - Third Floor, Trenton, New Jersey 08608
(201) 389-3189 | RICKENGLER@aol.com | www.njwec.org
Suzanne Murphy, Executive Director
Worksafe, Inc., 171 12th Street, Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94607
510-302-1011 (w) | http://www.worksafe.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sanford Lewis, Attorney
Author, The Safe Hometowns Guide Chemical Plant Safety after 9/11/2001
413 549-7333 | email@example.com
Denny Larson, Executive Director
Global Community Monitor, PO Box 1784, El Cerrito, CA 94530
+1-510-233-1870 | www.gcmonitor.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Ditz, Director
Southeast Michigan Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health
Detroit, Michigan | phone: 313-610-1458 | email@example.com
Brian R. Hill, PhD, Science Department Director
Pesticide Action Network- North America (PANNA)
49 Powell Street, #500, San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 981-1771 | www.panna.org
Kathleen A. Curtis, Policy Director
Clean New York, a project of Women's Voices for the Earth
323 Bonnyview Lane, Schenectady, NY 12306
518-355-6202 (home office) | www.clean-ny.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lois Gibbs, Executive Director
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ)
9 Murray St. 3rd Fl., NY, NY 10007
Phone: 212.964.3680 Fax: 212.349.1366
email@example.com | http:www.besafenet.com/pvc | http:www.chej.org
March 2, 2009
Letters to Senator Rockefeller and Senator Byrd regarding the cancellation of the US Chemical Safety Board's public hearing.
The Honorable Robert C. Byrd
Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Byrd-
With the support of many local and national organizations, I am writing you on behalf of People Concerned About MIC to ask your assistance on matters related to the August 28th Bayer CropScience explosion at the Institute, West Virginia facility which resulted in the deaths of two workers.
The Chemical Safety Board had originally scheduled a public hearing on March 19th at which time they would release these results to the public. However, due to pressure from Bayer CropScience, whose attorneys cited a Maritime Transportation Safety Act (MTSA) law, this meeting was cancelled.
According to a February 25th Charleston Gazette article by Ken Ward, Jr., “Bayer lawyers warned board members and agency staff that the company felt such information should not be discussed in a public forum. The article goes on to note that the law cited “was intended to keep confidential documents prepared by Bayer for the specific purpose of deterring terrorist attacks on the Institute plant's barge loading facility. We reject Bayers casting of a secrecy net over facts in a serious chemical accident investigation.
The Bayer CropScience Institute, WV facility is the only facility in the United States that stockpiles methyl isocyanate (MIC) at levels 10 to 100 times the amount that caused over 200,000 injuries and deaths in Bhopal, India. If the facility was using inherently safe technology that eliminates MIC storage like has been used by other plants for years (such as the DuPont plant in Belle, WV), they would have no reason to protect themselves against the same set of laws from which they run.
A CSB postponement of a planned community meeting for longer than even two weeks, we feel, is bound to be widely seen as due to corporate pressure exerted by Bayer on extremely dubious grounds, and thus not a neutral act. In fact, such a postponement will no doubt be seen by many observers, like it or not, as a significant political act, a hasty and voluntary exit of CSB from the ongoing national debate on IST to which the Board, given its intentionally broad legislative mandate to lead nationally in chemical accident prevention issues, ought to be eager to contribute its expertise and experience. We would like to emphasize that the Boards investigation can hardly be complete without considering in depth the siting and other IST issues obviously raised by this accident.
Surely a public airing of the Boards preliminary, current state of knowledge about the facts of the incident, and of the significant siting and other issues these facts pose for the Boards consideration, is not only frequent Board practice, but also entirely in line with the publics right to know (expressed in two Congressional laws from 1986 and 1990) and with the principle of transparency in government. The burden of proof ought to be clearly on those who wish to withhold information from the Board or the public (perhaps in a unique and precedent-setting way) to prove conclusively that they have a right to do so.
In light of these details, it is more important than ever to hold a public hearing to inform the remainder of the investigation. We realize that methyl isocyanate (MIC) is not the only chemical being produced and stockpiled by this facility. However, the level of secrecy being upheld by Bayer regarding MIC leads us to believe that the safety of their processes is more in question than the company cares to admit. Bayers lack of use of inherently safe technology makes the investigation a question of national security. As evidenced by the OSHA citations, the gross negligence by which the methomyl unit has been operated for a number of years presents even greater concerns regarding the health and safety for the workers and other members of our community.
Senator, our community deserves to know in a timely manner what is happening in our community that could have such major effects on our health and safety. We also deserve the ability to inform the reminder of this investigation with our concerns.
A public hearing is the appropriate next step in this investigation process. The following are among the questions/concerns our community would like answered in a timely manner regarding this incident:
1. Exactly how did the accident proceed?
a. Mass, estimated velocity and observed direction of plant components rocketed across the site.
b. Damage observed in nearby components.
c. Proximity of very dangerous nearby components (MIC storage tank) luckily not damaged.
d. Exactly what substances were released by the explosion and what exposures could have occurred for emergency responders and the public?
2. What industry or government codes are in place or can be developed to govern?
a. Siting of dangerous storage vessels in proximity to high pressure processes.
b. Mitigation features (e.g., blast curtains, blast walls, dikes, etc.) installed before the explosion.
c. Mitigation features installed after the explosion (as an alternative to re-siting components).
3. What other inherently safe technologies are available but not being utilized by this facility? Relevant technology options analysis:
a. alternative chemical process and storage technologies,
b. available commercially or technically ready,
c. to eliminate or significantly reduce risks of disaster. (cf. Duponts plant at LaPorte, TX which we understand is tied commercially to Duponts plant at Belle, WV)
4. How can this investigation ensure an acceptable level of communication and corporate accountability to the community across change in facility ownership?
5. What specific prevention methods will deter similar future violations? What are the specific prevention plans? (i.e. How will the recommendations of this investigation “hold teeth?)
6. How will the workers and community be compensated for the compounding damages caused by this incident?
Please assist us in persuading the CSB to hold a public hearing in a full and timely fashion surrounding this investigation. In order to prevent similar community traumas in the future, we also urge your vigorous support of pending national chemical security legislation that aims to require the most dangerous chemical facilities to utilize available inherently safe technologies.
Maya Nye, Spokesperson People Concerned About MIC