Sept. 12, 2008, Huntingtonnews.net
Emergency Workers Spar with Bayer Over Sparse Contents of Notifications
German Coalition Wants MIC Removed
Charleston, WV (HNN) – Plumes of smoke billowed from the Bayer CropScience plant following the August 28 explosion, yet St. Albans Police Chief Joe Crawford who saw the event firsthand told a conference of state, county and local officials: “We never received any information.
At the same time, Dunbars Mayor Roger Wolfe had been a former railroad engineer for Union Carbide. He knew about the dangerous chemicals stored at the Institute plant. However, he could not issue an evacuation order as hundreds of cars stalled on the interstate after it was shut down.
In addition, Metro 911 could not obtain definitive information from anyone at the plant other than there had been an incident. That small amount of data did not provide enough for responders to make decisions concerning the nearby population. Eventually, they ordered a shelter in place. Yet , plant spokesman Tom Dover said that was not necessary; all the plant required was outside assistance.
The pattern of lack of information seems to follow those at other Bayer plants.
Phillip Mimkes, a representative of the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, told HNN the group “has been monitoring the safety situation in Bayer plants around the world for 30 years. The Coalition currently is working on rectifying other issues found at the plants such as emissions, pesticide poisonings, hazardous pharmaceuticals, and corporate influence on politics and society.
The organization has tried without success to have Bayer shareholders vote to dismantle the MIC unit at the Institute plant. This is the same chemical that killed thousands from a leak in India at a Union Carbide Plant in the 80s. “ For coincidence, we started this year a campaign on the situation at institute, Mimkes said. “I spoke on the MIC threat within the meeting in front of Bayers board, the media and 4,000 shareholders.
Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency response for the Department of Environmental Protection, complained that people kept asking: “What am I being exposed to?
Those meeting at the Ned Chilton 911 Center in Southridge cited five main issues: The withholding of key information; no public information officer for the plant; emergency officers were given delayed access; too many command posts by too many agencies; and the shelter in places lifted too soon.
Bayer employees provided answers during the meeting, but refused questioning by the press. Instead, they issued a brief statement: “Were very committed to full cooperation with Metro 911; were committed to improving our relationship with all the folks in this room.
West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has requested that chemical companies voluntarily comply with the same 15 minute release of emergency data as coal companies. Although he phrased this now as a request, the governor intends to discuss matters with the legislature too.
Releasing limited information appears a Bayer pattern, Mimkes explained, “Everything Bayers CEO would answer to my questions was that Bayer has the newest and best safety systems and has an excellent safety record. My demands to dismantle the MIC storage tanks would be without substance.
For further info on the Coalition, visit: www.cbgnetwork.org/4.html or www.cbgnetwork.org. The coalition is based in Germany. By Tony Rutherford
Sept. 8, 2008 , Huntington News
Bayer Chemicals Were 'Hazardous'
Plant 'Priority Corrective Site' Per EPA Region III; MIC Located 50 to 75 Feet from Explosion
Charleston, WV (HNN) -- A document prepared by the National Response Center, a government agency responsible for emergency response to discharges of oil and chemicals into navigable waters or the environment, stated that Bayer Cropscience told them "the caller is not sure the exact materials that were released but they are hazardous materials that have most likely exceeded the reportable quantity."
The report said that Gordon Smith of Bayer notified the NRC at 12:37 a.m. on August 29. Federal law required an immediate report; the time is two hours AFTER the explosion and fire.
According to Philipp Mimkes, spokesman for the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers (CBG) , "Bayer managers have often downplayed the risks of the Institute plant. Bayer has to make clear which amounts of which substances escaped in the air. We repeat our demand that MIC and phosgene stockpiles at Institute have to be dismantled. The explosion once more shows that the neighborhood of the plant is constantly endangered."
"Bayer is reporting a release of materials due to a fire and explosion in the water deluge system," the incident report states. At the time, the report indicated "no injuries," despite one worker seriously burned and a missing worker later confirmed dead. It stated "no environmental impact" and "no media interest" in the event. Click here for further info on this organization: http://www.cbgnetwork.org/2608.html.
The Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany) introduced a motion at the company's annual stockholders meeting (in April 2008) that the board of directors should not be ratified until "stockpiles are dismantled and the frequent spills of hazardous substances stopped."
Stating that the Board of Management of BAYER is responsible for the plant, the Coalition cited a December 28, 2007 accident in which "several drums containing the pesticide thiodicarb burst," resulting in the treatment of dozens of residents for headaches and respiratory problems. Even then, the president of the Kanawha County administrative district criticized Bayer's handling of the spill. "Bayer's response after the accident was absolutely abysmal. The published information was completely inadequate. Nobody knew what had to be done."
Days later, the company downplayed the incident claiming just "an unpleasant smell with no health hazards." But , thiodicarb which the World Health Organization (WHO) describes as "extremely toxic and potentially carcinogenic." The chemical is banned in the EU.
The countermotion for the Board meeting continued: "Institute is the only place in the U.S. where MIC is produced and stored in large volumes. At least twice the amount of MIC that escaped in Bhopal is constantly present in the Institute factory. The plant management refuses to give precise details. Between five and fifty tones of the toxic gas phosgene which was deployed in the First World War are store at the factory. A worst-case scenario analysis in 1994 came to the conclusion that, in the event of a Maximum Credible Accident (MCA), cases of fatal poisoning would occur over a radius of several kilometers." (See: http://www.CBGnetwork.de/476.html) The motion(s) were not ratified by the Bayer shareholders.
EPA PROGRESS REPORT CALLS PLANT PRIORITY CORRECTION ACTION SITE
A July 22, 2008 progress report from EPA Region III termed the plant "a priority corrective action site." The report stated in 1991, EPA listed four Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) correction action permit site cleanup objectives. The plant operators were ordered to:
A. Conduct a Verification Investigation to determine if hazardous waste or contaminants have migrated into the soil or groundwater;
B. Conduct a RCRA Facility Investigation of 24 Solid Water Management Units (SWMUs);
C. Implement interim measures/stabilizations to address known releases or threats;
D. Conduct a Corrective Measures Study (CMS) to address aea where contaminants pose a threat to human life or the environment.
The EPA report stated: "The facility has implemented an air sparging/soil vapor extraction system to remediate soils and groundwater which are contaminated with volatile organic compounds the facility received a yes for the Human Exposure Under Control Environmental Indicator in September 2003 The facility has collected additional data during the last quarter of 2007 and is planning on additional sampling to better define source areas."
"At Solid Waste Management Unit (SWMU) 1, the former UCAR landfill, excavation of surficial tar-like oozes were performed on both the east and west side of the SWMU to approximately one foot below ground surface. Approximately 80 tons of excavated material were removed. The area was backfilled with limestone base material and then covered with approximately four inches of gravel. Access restrictions have also been implemented for this SWMU."
(EPA 2008 Report : http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/ca/wv/pdf/wvd005005509.pdf )
According to the progress report the main contaminants in the groundwater and soils are benzene, chlorobenzene, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and tetrachloroethane.
However, the residents of Institute and students and faculty at WVSU have concerns over MIC, a chemical that killed thousands when leaked at an India Union Carbide plant in the 80s. Dale Petry, Kanawha County's emergency management director, told the Associated Press that MIC was not involved in the explosion and was stored in steel-wrapped underground containers that were far from the blast.
MIC LOCATED 50 TO 75 FEET FROM EXPLOSION
Although the MIC manufacturing unit is on the opposite side of the plant, MIC is used in the production of Larvin, which is where the explosion and fire occurred. The Charleston Gazette quoting Mike Dorsey, emergency response director for the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection, said that "small amounts" of MIC are "stored in an above-ground tank located 50 to 75 feet from the explosion site." Dorsey said the aboveground MIC tank was protected by a steel "blast shield" to protect that tank from damage should an explosion occur in nearby units.
The primary concerns of inspectors have been contaminated ground water and prevention of it flowing outside of the plant. However, EPA on May 26, 2005 reached a settlement with then owner Union Carbide for "alleged violations of regulations on hazardous waste storage and annual reporting of toxic chemicals." Specifically, EPA cited the company for annual report errors about releases in 1999 of antimony, silver and nitric acid.
In an article published on June 21, 2005, Time wrote of a "noxious cloud of fear" enveloping golfers at Shawnee Park. One woman reported an odor similar to Kitty Litter coming from Carbide. The plant did not report the leak until 36 minutes after its discovery. 135 people sought hospital treatment for shortness of breath, burning in eyes and throat and vomiting.
Time stated that "the cloud that swept over Institute was not MIC but a combination of methylene chloride and aldicarb oxime. At the Institute facility, aldicarb oxime is mixed with MIC to form the active ingredient for Temik, a pesticide widely used on citrus crops. Last week's scare occurred when steam accidentally entered a metal jacket surrounding a tank that stored the chemicals, causing three gaskets to blow and 500 gal of the solution to escape."
Two days following the accident W.Va. Senator Robert C. Byrd promised "scrutiny of this whole situation will be more intense than before." Lee Thomas, then administrator of EPA, expressed a sense of "urgency." Ironically two days after the Institute incident in 2005, a UC plant in South Charleston leaked 4,000 lbs. of ontoxic mixture used to make hydraulic brake fluid.
Considering the delay in reporting of the explosion, the 2005 article quoted Warren Anderson, chairman of the board, that the company would "rather be accused of crying wolf than accused of not doing the proper things at the proper time."
UNDER REPORTING OF TOXIC MATERIALS
Carbide previously owned the Bayer Institute plant and still has responsibility for the continued clean up. But just like the explosion that left corporate stonewalling on substances released, a 1999 report claimed to have generated 5.4 million pounds of wastes at its plants in Institute, WV, Seadrift, Tx., and Sistersville, WV. But "official reports to state and federal agencies" reveal instead an increase of 17.6 million pounds at these plants. (See: http://www.ejnet.org/rachel/rhwn211.htm ) The same document indicated: Carbide reported releasing 4000 pounds more methyl isocyanate (MIC) into the community of Institute, WV, during 1988 compared to 1987. MIC is the highly toxic gas that killed an estimated 8000 townspeople living near Carbides's Bhopal, India, plant in 1984.
Finally, a case study by American University on the Bhopal disaster described the dangers of MIC. As one of the "intermediates" in pesticide production "it is a little lighter than water but twice as heavy, meaning that when it escapes into the atmosphere it stays close to the ground. It has the ability to react with many substances: water acids, metals, and the small deposits of corrosive materials that accumulate in pipes, tanks and valves."
Further into the report, the article details the "defects" of the MIC unit in India which ranged from "notoriously unreliable gauges", a shut off gas scrubber, a turned off flare tower, a failed alarm, and the MIC tank filled beyond capacity. For more click: http://www.american.edu/ted/bhopal.htm or "Could It Happen in West Virginia?" a 1984 Time Magazine article: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,923803,00.html.
A historical listing of incidents at the Institute plant can be found here: http://www.cbgnetwork.org/2619.html, including a 1994 NY Times article about the MIC risk at the plant: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9501E4DB1F3BF937A35755C0A962958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2.
By Tony Rutherford, Huntingtonnews.net Reporter