Institute / W.Va.

September 15, 2008, Daily Mail

Bayer CropScience to pay more than $1 million to settle federal charges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bayer CropScience has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle federal charges that the Institute site's previous owner, Aventis CropScience, from 1999 to 2001 kept shoddy records, exceeded its discharge permit limits for numerous hazardous chemicals and failed to properly notify authorities of discharge excesses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to publish the proposed settlement agreement soon, perhaps today.

The settlement comes 18 days after an explosion at the Institute plant killed one worker and injured another. Thousands of residents took shelter in their homes to avoid fumes from a fire in the plant's Larvin pesticide unit. Emergency services personnel have criticized Bayer CropScience for failing to provide timely information following that incident, which remains under investigation.

Under the proposed settlement agreement stemming from the period Aventis CropScience owned the Institute site, Bayer CropScience will pay $112,500 in fines and donate more than $900,000 worth of equipment to first-responder organizations in the Kanawha Valley, including:

Bayer CropScience purchased the Institute site in June 2002. The company said in a prepared statement that it has taken corrective action to address the issues raised by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Nick Crosby, Bayer CropScience's Institute site manager, said in a prepared statement, "Bayer CropScience is pleased to be able to work with the EPA to fund these worthwhile projects. I hope they will improve emergency response capabilities across the Kanawha Valley."

In the proposed settlement agreement, Bayer CropScience neither admits nor denies the federal agency's charges.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said today he is not impressed with the proposed settlement. "You have these things go on for years," he said. "They finally get around to fining someone after years go by and it seems to be too small compared to the harm."

The proposed settlement stems from multimedia inspections of the Institute site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, from May 15 to 24, Aug. 13 to 16 and Nov. 6 to 9.

Those inspections turned up multiple alleged violations, including:

The plant at Institute has been under close scrutiny since December 1984, when methyl isocyanate leaked at a sister plant in Bhopal, India, killing thousands of people. It was the world's worst industrial disaster. Methyl isocyanate is a pesticide ingredient made and stored at the Institute plant.

The Bhopal and Institute plants were both owned by Union Carbide Corp. at the time of the leak at Bhopal. The Institute plant has since changed hands several times. After Rhone-Poulenc bought the site in 1986, that company invested $50 million to upgrade and strengthen systems, including the methyl isocyanate safety systems.

Aventis CropScience was created in 2000 when Rhone-Poulenc and Hoechst AG of Germany merged.

About 500 Bayer CropScience employees, 80 Dow Chemical employees and 200 contractors work at the Institute site, formally known as the Bayer CropScience Manufacturing Industrial Park. The park has several other tenants including Praxair Corp., Adisseo, FMC Corp., Catalyst Refiners and Reagent Chemicals. by George Hohmann