Press Release, April 3, 2008
Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany)
Institute/USA: Bayer plant still home to MIC stockpile
"sister plant" of Bhopal / frequent spills of hazardous substances / countermotion to Bayer´s shareholder meeting
At Bayer's Institute/West Virginia plant large quantities of the highly toxic chemicals methyl isocyanate (MIC) and phosgene are produced and stored. The Coalition against Bayer Dangers introduced a countermotion to Bayer´s Annual Stockholders´ Meeting which demands not to ratify the board until the stockpiles are dismantled and the frequent spills of hazardous substances are stopped. The countermotion will be discussed in the meeting at Cologne/Germany on April 25.
In the 1980s, the factory belonged to Union Carbide and was regarded as the "sister plant" to the infamous factory in Bhopal, India. In December 1984, 30 tons of MIC leaked from the Bhopal plant and at least 15,000 people fell victim to the worst chemical accident in history. MIC can kill or cause permanent injury if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. The substance is dangerous in concentrations lower than those humans can smell.
After the catastrophe in India, public attention focused on the pesticides factory at Institute, because the same safety regulations applied as in Bhopal and large quantities of MIC were stored there. Despite assurances by the company management that no dangers emanate from the factory, there was a major incident in August 1985 when around two tons of toxic chemicals, including the very dangerous pesticide aldicarb, floated in a burning cloud over the residential area near the factory. At least 135 people had to be treated at local hospitals and another 175 by paramedics.
Another major incident happened at Institute in August 1994 when an explosion destroyed part of the pesticides production plant. One worker was killed immediately and at least one other died later from the consequences. The Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) imposed a fine of 1.7 million dollars for "willful violation of safety regulations". In 1994 a worst-case scenario analysis came to the conclusion that, in the event of a Maximum Credible Accident (MCA), cases of fatal poisoning could occur over a radius of several kilometers. In February 1996 again a leak and fire occurred and forced thousands of residents to take shelter in their homes.
Bayer took over ownership of the factory in 2001 as part of the acquisition of Aventis CropScience. Whilst the volume of supertoxic agents like phosgene and MIC stored at German Bayer plants was reduced following the Bhopal catastrophe, the tanks at Institute remained as they were. Today, Institute is the only place in the United States where MIC is produced and stored in such large volumes. At least twice the amount of MIC that escaped at Bhopal is constantly present in the factory. In addition, between five and fifty tons of the toxic gas phosgene, a nerve agent in World War I, are stored. American right-to-know laws allow such information to be reported in broad categories. The plant management refuses to give any more precise figures to the media.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the amount of chemicals being stored in this valley," said Wendy Radcliff, a lawyer who has followed chemical industry issues, interviewed by the Charleston Gazette. "We should not forget that the risks are still there. Even if we don't hear about it, it's still the sleeping giant in our community", Pam Nixon adds. Nixon was among those injured by the toxic gas release in 1985. Nearly a decade later Nixon was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder that she blames on the exposure.
In the eighties Pam Nixon and other Institute residents formed the group People Concerned About MIC. For more than a decade, they demanded that various plant owners reduce the MIC stockpile or take other steps to make the facility safer. Nixon says that reducing the quantity of MIC stored on site is the only real solution to eliminating risks of a Bhopal-type event happening there.
Even in normal operation, large volumes of hazardous substances are released from the factory. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the plant released more than 300 tons of chemicals and pollutants into the air in 2006, including 200 kg of MIC, 50 kg of thiodicarb, four tons of chlorine and several kilograms of phosgene. The plant accounts for 90% of the stored MIC and 95% of the MIC emissions in the whole United States.
The most recent incident at Institute occurred on December 28, 2007, when several drums containing the pesticide thiodicarb burst. Dozens of residents had to be treated for headache and respiratory problems. Kent Carper, president of Kanawha County where Institute is located, 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 and potentially carcinogenic. Thiodicarb has been banned in the European Union. Last year, 154 organizations from 35 countries called on Bayer to stop selling all pesticides of the highest hazard category, including thiodicarb.
The countermotions are online on Bayer´s website: http://www.asm2008.bayer.com/en/countermotions.aspx