The Washington Post, October 9, 2008
Groups demand W.Va. plant dismantle chemical piles
CHARLESTON, W.Va.- A coalition of environmental groups wants Bayer to dismantle stockpiles of chemicals it says are so deadly they present a safety risk to residents near a southwestern West Virginia plant that was the site of a deadly explosion in August.
In a letter circulated Wednesday, the groups called for the removal of methyl isocyanate and phosgene from the Bayer CropScience plant located about 10 miles from Charleston. Neither was involved in the Aug. 28 explosion that killed one worker and seriously injured another.
A methyl isocyanate leak killed at least 15,000 people near a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, in 1984. Phosgene was used as a weapon during World War I. Both chemicals are commonly used in pesticides and plastics.
The primary chemical involved in the explosion, methyl isobutyl ketone, is highly flammable but not especially toxic, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Nevertheless, the groups' letter said Bayer was slow in providing that information to emergency crews after the explosion.
"Local emergency responders weren't sure what to do for several hours after the blast. In case of a toxic release, thousands of residents would have been endangered," the letter said.
Bayer site leader Nick Crosby said the two chemicals that the environmental groups want gone posed no risk during the explosion, and that phosgene in particular is stored nowhere near the site of the blast.
"MIC was not involved in the incident," Crosby said Wednesday. "All of the safety systems associated with it performed perfectly."
The company does regret that it didn't communicate better in the hours immediately after the explosion, Crosby said.
"We were unaware that our neighbors did not know that at the time," he said. "Our communication did not meet the high standards we expect of ourselves at Bayer CropScience."
Groups signing onto the letter include the environmental caucus of the West Virginia Young Democrats, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the state chapter of the Sierra Club and a German group called the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers.
Bayer plans to designate a person onsite to handle 911 calls, including telling emergency crews about any potential danger to the area, and to provide Metro 911 radios to staff members in case phone lines are down.
Government agencies and Bayer are investigating the cause of the explosion. Crosby said the unit where it occurred won't reopen until the investigation is complete.
About 700 people work at the plant that primarily makes active ingredients for agricultural, industrial and other products. By TOM BREEN