Bayer`s safety record

BAYER refuses to disclose true facts and tries to reassure supervisory agencies and public with soothing noises.

In its “Environment Guidelines” BAYER commits itself to the following: “Regarding safe and environmentally-friendly procedures on products, BAYER provides information through staff training as well as by advice and recommendations on its products for the consumer.” But what does the term ‘environmentally-friendly’ mean? A minimum requirement would be: Starting with the transport of raw materials, semi-finished and final products , through all stages of production and on to the marketing and sales stage, no substances should be produced or allowed to escape into the environment which could harm the environment, natural processes or the ecosystem. To date the BAYER group has signally failed to comply with this aim. In fact the company is still far from guaranteeing conformance of plant , production and operating safety to present-day standards. The list of accidents and incidents at BAYER must necessarily be incomplete and includes only those known to us. However, in the year l987 alone one-thousand and sixty-three so-called industrial accidents took place in the five German BAYER factories.

Chemical plants represent a powder keg: allegedly controlled reactions cause waste products to be produced whose toxicity is often unknown and whose planned application - and thus recycling into the production and consumption chain - is not feasible. Thus, for example, the current levels of chemical pollutants being discharged (known approved discharges) are still, despite much-claimed progress, extremely high ( in one voice BAYER and the Cologne state government announced in l993 that total discharges into the Rhine had , in the case of important goups of substances like the heavy metals , been reduced by over 70%): 500 kg of cadmium annually, 6l0 kg of mercury, 2.2 tonnes of dichloromethane, 13 kg hexachlorobenzene, 65o kg dichlorobenzene, 500 kg chlorobenzene, 1.2 tonnes arsenic, 360 kg napthaline, 42 kg chrome, 560 kg titanium, 1.1 tonnes phosphate, 1.2 tonnes ammonium.... which every year in North-Rhine Westphalia goes into the River Rhine and its tributaries!

In public BAYER gives the impression that it is able to control and manage the risks and hazards associated with the manufacturing , sale, application and disposal of chemical products and indeed that “not only are official regultions complied with, but additional measures taken on the company’s own initiative” (from: ‘Guidelines on Environmental Protection’). The company attempts to prove this commitment with a veritable barrage of publications containing targets and self-imposed obligations:

-Guidelines on Environmental Protection
-Health & Safety Guidelines
-Plant Safety Guidelines
-Guidelines on Safety in case of Technology Transfer,

all of them couched in very general terms and containing the kind of reassurances which one might expect from a worldwide chemical group after the Sandoz, Seveso and Bhopal disasters. The Coordination against Bayer-Dangers has frequently demonstrated that a massive gap yawns between the announcing of intentions and self-imposed obligations on one hand and the reality on the other. A commission set up by the World Health Organization noted that 35% of the pharmaceutical products exported by BAYER in l988 to third world countries no longer comply with current medical standards or must be regarded as obsolete or hazardous. In this connection the following points should likewise be mentioned: Factor VIII preparations contaminated with the aids virus, BAYER workers suffering chrome poisoning in South Africa, discrimination of trades union officials at BAYER Brazil, misuse of pesticides in Columbia, Costa Rica, Greece etc. etc. A comprehensive list is beyond the scope of this article.

The German Industrial Accident Regulations apply to plants which exceed certain quantity limits in the processing or storage of certain hazardous substances. In the framework of planning and permit procedures, a company intending to construct and operate such a plant must demonstrate that the safety devices required to prevent accidents are present. As a rule, in addition, safety analyses for the plant in question must be carried out. Such analyses of safety systems are checked by a neutral body. In addition to the regulations within the framework of planning and permit procedures and regular inspections to check compliance with fire regulations, prevention of hazard plans for each plant and /or fire brigade operation plans are drawn up for these plants (and also for other plants not subject to the Industrial Accident Regulations). The plans lay down particular measures to be taken in an emergency as well as facilitating rapid familiarization with a given plant in case of necessity and contain types of information essential for the emergency services. The revised Industrial Accident Regulations contain some new clauses: Plant owners are now obliged to notify not just official agencies about safety measures but also to inform - expressly without prior request - persons concerned as well as the general public of safety measures undertaken. In addition there is advice on what action to take in case of an accident or emission. Accidents as defined by these regulations are breakdowns and interruptions to the normal operation of the plant in question such as, for example, excessive emissions, fires, explosions etc., causing or permitting the escape of certain substances which can immediately or later represent a serious hazard to persons or to the environment.

Paragraph lla of the Industrial Accident Regulations specifically lays this down as follows:
“The operator of a plant must inform - by appropriate means and without prior request - persons who may be affected by an accident as well as members of the public - of safety measures and of the correct action to be taken in the event of an accident. The information provided must include the details given in Appendix VI. Insofar as the information is intended for the protection of members of the public, specific details are to be agreed with official agencies responsible for civil defence and emergency services. The information and recommendations are to be re-issued at suitable intervals and kept up-to-date. Clause 1 is valid as appropriate. The official agency responsible may determine in what manner the information is to be given , re-issued and brought up-to-date.”
Appendix VI gives particulars of the information which must be published. These are:

1. Name of the company operating the plant or factory , location of the plant or factory

2. Name and job title of the person providing the information

3. Confirmation that the Industrial Accident Regulations are to be applied and that the obligations to provide information contained therein have been fulfilled

4. A short description of the plant including details of plant type and purpose in terms comprehensible to a non-specialist

5. Names of substances or compounds which could cause accidents or emissions, with details of the main hazards and dangers they represent.

6.General information on the specific kinds of hazard arising in the case of an accident or emission , including possible effects on persons and the environment

7. Adequate information on how persons involved in accidents or emissions are to be warned about and kept informed of hazards arising from such accidents and emissions

8. Adequate advice and information as to the action inluding all necessary precautions to be taken by persons involved in or affected by accidents

9. The assurance that the operating company has undertaken appropriate measures at the site of the plant so as to be properly prepared in the event of any accident or emissions as well as to minimize the effects of any such accidents or emissions

10. Particulars of the external alarm and emergency plan drawn up to counter the effects of accidents and emissions outside the boundary of the plant. This should also contain advice and recommendations on the cooperation of the various authorities and agencies responsible for the general prevention of hazards as well as civil defence groups in the case of any accidents or emissions
ll. Details of where further information may be obtained, subject to any c onfidentiality provisions applicable. Industrial and trade secrets are subject to such confidentiality provisions.“

Closer examination of BAYER’s information leaflet entitled “Our responsibility - your safety: Information for neighbours of the Bayer factory and the public”, with which the group attempts to fulfill its obligations under Section 11a of the German Industrial Accident Regulations confirms suspicions that the company is purposely limiting itself to disclosing a minimum of information, giving only very general and highly condensed details of plants being operated at each location, substances and compounds produced or used in processes, the main ways in which they could present hazards and possible effects on people and the environment. For instance, a nearly identical text headed “What is Bayer in....” purports to give nearby residents and the public in Leverkusen, Dormagen, Wuppertal and Krefeld-Uerdingen what is supposed to be specific information on the plant complex at each location. The only details which alter are, in fact, as follows:

- Location of plant site (with name of person to contact, address and telephone number)
- The number of individual plants at this location - no further details given
- The number of subsances/substance groups to be found at each plant complex. However, the characteristics and toxic effects of these substances are described identically in the information leaflets for all plant complex locations (this is typical of BAYER’s slapdash approach to plant safety)

No further plant-specific information is provided. The platitudes contained in the leaflet are rounded off with general remarks on hazard prevention , what to do in case of accidents ( where we discover that danger signs such as the smell of gas, smoke clouds or “loud bangs” may occur) , as well as very general safety hints (Instruction No. 1 “ Keep away from scene of accident”!)

This type of deliberate vagueness renders it impossible to make any kind of concrete or comprehensive evaluation of risks and hazard potentials - neither does this appear to be intended: as BAYER writes, laconically and unmistakably - once again for all the group’s works in North-Rhine Westphalia - “No hazards can arise from substances released through accidents or emissions during the proper operation of our production plants”. Such phrasing in an information leaflet which is supposed to help to prevent accidents and make it easier to confront hazards can only be understood as meaning that BAYER does not take accident prevention seriously.

Cynical in the extreme if one considers for example the close proximity and intermixing of residential areas and chemical production plants at the group’s Wuppertal works, where the company was first established. Is this really the information policy of the group regarded as the the pride of the German chemical industry? Against this background one doesn’t have to exert one’s imagination to picture the state of the group’s accident prevention practices in the countries of the Third World. As early as l986, at the annual general meeting of BAYER BRAZIL, a member of the works fire brigade, Paulo Morani, reported on the complete lack of hazard prevention and emergency plans, whether within the plant boundary or for the surrounding area. Paulo Morani made it clear that in the case of any accidents or emissions at BAYER BRAZIL - which is after all BAYER’s largest subsidiary outside Europe - no organized response to emergencies would be possible, neither was there any sort of provision for residents and plant personnel to be kept informed about developing hazards and emissions.

Finally, BAYER details on the plants at Brunsbuttel represent a peak of misinformation. Two entire pages in large print purport to give information on potential hazards. However, BAYER carefully avoids giving concrete information of its own on substances and processes at the works. Instead, all that is available is an information leaflet put out by six companies (one of which is BAYER), which is a masterpiece of generality and vagueness. Thus, the reader may learn the BAYER factory produces or processes dyestuff preproducts and dyestuffs, plastics preproducts, preparations for ageing protection, preproducts for pesticides, as well as organic chemicals - but even here, no exact particulars are given! To quote BAYER’s own words: “ In the Brunsbuttel factory BAYER PLC operates plants for the manufacture of substances by means of chemical conversion, such as .....”. Everything is vague; neither specific substances, compounds, nor processes are mentioned; details of the quantities involved remain - as usual - a trade secret. On the second page of the leaflet certain substances and compounds are listed, together with their properties. The well-informed reader may be somewhat surprised to find that exactly the same names appear as in the information leaflets on the groups’ factories located in North-Rhine Westphalia. There is no specific classification of substances used at Brunsbuttel.

It is quite clear that the BAYER group is not fulfilling its obligation to provide information about its operations; furthermore, the goup’s compliance with the requirements of Section 11a of the German Industrial Accident Regulations is completely inadequate. Plant personnel as well as local residents are kept in the dark about the group’s operations at all of the company’s factories. BAYER maintains the pretence that operation of plants and processes takes place under carefully supervised and controlled conditions, subject to stringent safety precautions. It is clear , however, that the information leaflets quoted serve more as a tranquillizer than to provide effective and useful advice and information to persons involved at sites of the BAYER plants. The information actually given by BAYER does not create confidence in the company’s operating practices or emergency procedures for staff and residents.