- April 27, 2009
- Volume 87, Number 17
- p. 8
Security Dispute Reaches Congress
Bayer admits using security law to block public access to chemical accident information
BAYERCROPSCIENCE USED antiterrorism security regulations to keep the public from knowing details about a cascade of failures that led to an explosion and fire as well as the deaths of two workers at its Institute, W.Va., chemical facility last year, the company admitted at a congressional hearing on April 21.
The company has been embroiled in a dispute with the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) over what information the independent federal board can tell the public about the Aug. 28, 2008, accident (C&EN, April 20, page 36). Bayer had identified some 2,000 documents as possibly “sensitive security information” (SSI), a classification that restricts CSB’s ability to make them public, according to a report by the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations.
At a subcommittee hearing last week, William Buckner, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience, said in a prepared statement that Bayer was invoking SSI in part “to limit negative publicity generally about the company or the Institute facility, [and] to avoid public pressure to reduce the volume of MIC [methyl isocyanate] that is produced and stored at Institute by changing to alternative technologies or even calls by some in our community to eliminate MIC production entirely.”
In 1984, the accidental release of MIC led to thousands of deaths in Bhopal, India, but at the hearing, Bayer defended its storage of MIC, saying it is used in four of the company’s processes and is amply protected.
CSB’s preliminary investigation found that the accident was due to a runaway reaction in the methomyl pesticide unit, which uses MIC as a feedstock. Contributing to the accident was Bayer’s decision to bypass three safety locks during unit start-up. MIC air monitors near the unit were also not working.
CSB Chairman John Bresland told the subcommittee that the accident could have been much worse. The explosion sent a 5,000-lb vessel flying 50 feet north through a maze of steel beams and pipes; if it had flown south, it would have hit a storage tank holding 7 tons of MIC, he said. Bayer, Bresland added, is the only U.S. company that continues to store large quantities of MIC.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), subcommittee chairman, tells C&EN he intends to modify plant security laws to restrict companies’ use of SSI designations.
Two weeks ago, Bayer lawyers warned board members and agency staff that the … Plant worker Barry Withrow was killed in the explosion and a second employee, … But the Institute plant is best known for its production and use of methyl …. as other chemical makers and some other Bayer facilities have done. …
www.wvgazette.com/News/200902240749 – 76k – Cached – Similar pages –
Dec 26, 1981 … Union Carbide has a long history of causing death through its peace time industrial activities. … a cancer-causing chemical in the Kanawha river in West Virginia. … Union Carbide with 221 safety violations at its Institute plant. … Two other workers were injured. In October 1982, Methyl Iso …
www.iced.org.au/files/iced/bhopal/carbide.html – 12k – Cached – Similar pages –
A member supported weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society, … well as the deaths of two workers at its Institute, W.Va., chemical facility last …
pubs.acs.org/cen/news/87/i17/8717notw6.html – Similar pages –
Mar 28, 2009 … INSTITUTE, W.Va. – Last August, an explosion tore through the Bayer … the same chemical responsible for the deaths of thousands of people …. Last August, an explosion at a pesticide plant in West Virginia killed two workers. … That’s the chemical that leaked from a sister facility in Bhopal, …
www.cbgnetwork.org/2859.html – 15k – Cached – Similar pages –
Apr 23, 2009 … Eight other workers reported symptoms of chemical exposure. … MIC is the same chemical that caused death and injury in the Bhopal accident 25 years ago. … plant in Institute killed two workers, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is … “Bayer Chemical Company owes all West Virginia families a clear …
www.wsaz.com/charleston/headlines/43532367.html – 79k – Cached – Similar pages –
INSTITUTE, W.Va. – Safety lapses that led to a runaway chemical reaction caused a … 28 blast that killed two people at the sprawling plant west of Charleston. … No other facility in the U.S. stores MIC in such amounts, he said. … the explosion and that it’s top priority remained the safety of workers and the …
news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090424/ap_on_re_us/us_plant_explosion_report – 88k – Cached – Similar pages –
Apr 23, 2009 … INSTITUTE, W.Va. (AP) – Safety lapses that led to a runaway chemical … The U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s preliminary report came two days … No other facility in the U.S. stores MIC in such amounts, he said. … and that it’s top priority remained the safety of workers and the nearby community. …
www.wtop.com/index.php?nid=104&sid=1658464 – 48k
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Under pressure from Bayer CropScience, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has canceled a public meeting where it planned to brief Kanawha Valley residents on its investigation of the August explosion that killed two Institute plant workers.
Board members had scheduled the meeting for March 19, and intended to discuss concerns about a methyl isocyanate tank located near the site of the deadly blast.
Two weeks ago, Bayer lawyers warned board members and agency staff that the company felt such information should not be discussed in a public forum.
Bayer lawyers cited an obscure maritime law that was intended to keep confidential documents prepared by Bayer for the specific purpose of deterring terrorist attacks on the Institute plant’s barge loading facility.
But chemical plant safety advocates were shocked by the board’s decision. They said it raises concerns that the industry has discovered a new legal loophole that company attorneys may try to exploit to derail detailed investigations of plant accidents.
“We would hope that this does not become a precedent,” said Rick Hind, who follows chemical safety issues for Greenpeace.
Maya Nye, a leader of the local group People Concerned about MIC, said this week, “I don’t understand why this is top-secret information. But this seems to be consistent with Bayer’s lack of communication with the community.”
Robert C. Gombar, a Washington, D.C., attorney for Bayer, did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Tom Dover, Bayer’s Institute plant spokesman, declined to answer detailed questions about the company’s dealings with the Chemical Safety Board.
Word of the board’s action comes as Saturday’s deadline nears for another federal agency, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to issue any citations for violations it found related to the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and fire. Under federal law, OSHA has six months from the date it starts an investigation to issue citations.
Plant worker Barry Withrow was killed in the explosion and a second employee, Bill Oxley, died about six weeks later at a burn center in Pittsburgh. Thousands of residents between South Charleston and the Putnam County line were advised to take shelter in their homes.
The explosion occurred in a unit where Bayer makes methomyl, which it then uses to produce Larvin, the company’s brand name of the insecticide thiodicarb.
But the Institute plant is best known for its production and use of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, the chemical that killed thousands of people in a leak from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in December 1984.
Bayer uses MIC to make methomyl, and the methomyl unit includes a tank that can hold up to 40,000 pounds of MIC, according to company disclosures filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That storage tank is located 50 to 75 feet from the location of the August explosion, according to state and federal inspectors.
Safety board investigators were looking into that tank, and asking Bayer questions about whether it was in an unsafe location or had appropriate safety devices.
Among the board’s questions, Bresland said this week, was, “Should it be in that location or more remote from where there would be a potential explosion?
“That is certainly something we would be looking into,” Bresland said.
But Bayer lawyers told safety board officials at a Feb. 12 meeting that any information about MIC handling and storage was protected from public disclosure under the Coast Guard’s rules to implement the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act. But that law and the Coast Guard’s rules appear to apply only to reports and data specifically put together by Bayer in planning its facility security plans.
Paul Orum, a longtime chemical industry watchdog in Washington, said he would be very surprised if Coast Guard regulations protected the kind of information the chemical board planned to share with the public.
“I don’t know of any basis for what they’re claiming,” Orum said.
Bresland said Bayer officials also expressed concern about possible negative media coverage from a public meeting, and worried the meeting would veer into a broader debate over the Institute plant’s storage of large amounts of MIC.
“They realized that a public meeting would have some negative consequences for Bayer,” Bresland said.
Internally, chemical safety board officials were already discussing whether their probe should include an examination of the longstanding issues over MIC stockpiles at the Institute facility.
Bayer reports to EPA that it stores between 100,000 and 999,999 pounds of MIC at the plant. And for years, local and international activists have urged various plant owners to reduce that stockpile, as other chemical makers and some other Bayer facilities have done.
The major MIC storage tanks are underground and on the other side of the plant from where the August explosion occurred. Those tanks store an average of about 200,000 pounds of the chemical, according to EPA documents.
But Fred Millar, another longtime chemical company watchdog, wondered whether Bayer should have the smaller MIC tank located above ground near the methomyl unit that blew up in August.
“It feels like you’ve got a situation where the plant was caught with its pants down, and there’s a questionable practice of storing this methyl isocyanate far too close to a dangerous reactive chemical unit,” Millar said Tuesday. “This is no time for the Chemical Safety Board to be delaying talking about this to the public.”
On its Web site, the public relations firm Ann Green Communications says its services enable clients to “build open and honest relationships with stakeholders through effective communication strategies.”
Folks in the Kanawha Valley are probably wondering exactly how Ann Green’s recommendations to Bayer CropScience were going to do that.
Recall that documents made public this week by a congressional committee included pr firm President Ann Green’s advice for Bayer in dealing with the valley after the August 2008 explosion that killed two Institute plant workers and forced thousands of residents to take shelter in their homes.
I’m not going to dwell on Green’s suggestions that Bayer should try to “marginalize” The Charleston Gazette. You can read them for yourselves here. This newspaper has big shoulders, and we can take whatever criticism Green and her clients at Bayer want to offer.
But what about the rest of Green’s recommendations?
Well, there’s the nasty comments about Maya Nye, a valley native who has decided to try to get the local group People Concerned About MIC up and running again:
The old ‘People Concerned About MIC’ activist group, established in the aftermath of Bhopal, has been reactivated with an ominous new leader, Maya Nye (Does she look that ominous? Seriously). Ms. Nye is the daughter of a Union Carbide retriee and appears to have animosity toward the chemical industry. She has taken an adversarial approach from the beginning and is not retreating.
6:10 pm April 24, 2009 7 Comments
A U.S. Chemical Safety Board map shows that areas and populations forced the shelter in place by the August 2008 Bayer explosion and fire.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller had already issued one statement about the congressional investigation on the Bayer CropScience explosion and fire. It was issued prior to the hearing, and included in the hearing record.
But the West Virginia Democrat was apparently pretty upset by what he heard during the hearing. Rockefeller’s office issued another statement this morning. Here it is:
“These findings are an outrage. I was expecting bad news, but this is far worse than I could have imagined and very disturbing,” said Senator Rockefeller, who submitted testimony at the hearing. “Bayer Chemical Company owes all West Virginia families a clear explanation for this explosion, the response, and any potential hazards, and should cooperate fully with this investigation. We must make sure this never happens again.”
4:48 pm April 23, 2009
Equipment destruction along the trajectory of the residue treater vessel; the
deformed shell of the vessel is visible at the center of the photograph. U.S. Chemical Safety Board photo.
In advance of tonight’s public meeting, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is holding a press conference this morning in Institute. They’re releasing this PowerPoint presentation, which will also be used during tonight’s public meeting.
10:01 am April 23, 2009
GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Parts of three states were shaken Friday by a minor earthquake centered near the West Virginia-Ohio border.
The U.S. Geological Survey reports the 3.4 magnitude quake occurred around 9:45 a.m. Friday. Michael Hansen, coordinator of the Ohio Seismic Network, said the epicenter was near Gallipolis, just across the Ohio River from West Virginia.
Staffers at the Gallia County 911 center thought a vehicle had hit their building and ran outside. Center director Steve Wilson said they quickly received 170 calls from rattled residents.
2:26 pm April 22, 2009
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has posted some video of its tour of the Bayer CropScience Institute plant, taken after the deadly August 2008 explosion. Here it is: (see above)
[By forwarding about two-thirds – three-quarters of the way through this video clip it is possible to quickly see the major views of the damage. If they had 40,000 people “shelter in place” inside their homes and the other tanks had exploded – they would not be here today. – along with whomever else was downwind of it.) – okay, I’m not insane compared to this, including the company that would have located here, tried to stop the safety hearings about it and compared to the government officials that had people “shelter in place” during a chemical plant disaster.
This Graffiti may offend some people’s sensibilities. It use to do so for me, but when I read the information below of the negligence and callousness of Union Carbide I understand why it has become know as Killer Carbide
The 1994, Fortune 500 list of US-based companies ranks Union Carbide Corporation ll4th (down from 88th in l993) with total assets of US $4.7billion. Since the Bhopal disaster the corporation has followed the course of being a lean mean company. In 1986, it sold its battery division to Ralston-Purina, its agricultural products division to Rhone-Poulenc and its home and auto products business to First Brand in order to concentrate on its 3 core businesses: chemicals and plastics, industrial gases and carbon products. In ’90, Union Carbide sold parts of its business to Mitsubishi and some chemical facilities were sold in 1992.
While in 1984 it employed 55,180 people in 137 countries, today Union Carbide operates about 5O manufacturing facilities and laboratories in 20 countries with about 13,000 people in its employ. The company known in the past through its Glad trash bags, Prestone anti-freeze and Eveready batteries now sells solvents, coatings, polyolefines, industrial and specialty chemicals. In 1993, it had sales of more than US$ 4.6 billion. With this kind of thrust and a new name – Union Carbide Chemicals and Plastics Company, Union Carbide seems to be heading back to where it began in 1920, with the manufacture of poison gases for use in World War II.
Union Carbide has a long history of causing death through its peace time industrial activities. Even before it caused Bhopal, the worst industrial disaster in the world, Union Carbide held the record of causing the worst industrial disaster in the USA. In the building of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel in 1930 in W. Virginia, 5000 workers (65% of whom were black) were employed by the corporation. As many as 2000 workers died of silicosis due to lack of protection against exposure to silica dust. In 1981, the Corporation was fined US$ 50, 000 for spilling over 25,000 gallons of propylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical in the Kanawha river in West Virginia.
The same year 402 employees in Carbide’s battery factory in Indonesia were suffering from kidney diseases from exposure to mercury. In July 1985, 998 people in California were poisoned from eating watermelon contaminated with Temik pesticide produced by Carbide (one of the products of its Bhopal factory). In April 1986, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) charged Union Carbide with 221 safety violations at its Institute plant. The same year in November, Temik showed up in ground water in 15 states. On March 12, 1991, there was an explosion at Union Carbide’s chemical plant in Seadrift, Texas. With eighteen of its workers dying from brain cancer, this plant had the second highest concentration of cancer in USA. On September 27, 1994 three workers in Union Carbide’s plant in Mexico were killed during maintenance work at the refrigeration unit.
Robert Kennedy is the present Chairman of Union Carbide – for his responsibilities in manufacture and distribution of poisonous chemicals he earns an annual of US$ 15,65,000 which is 500 times more than the damages being awarded for exposure related deaths in Bhopal. Warren Anderson, the former chairman from 1980 to 1986 was personally responsible for the crucial corporate decisions that led to the Bhopal disaster.
Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary, UCIL (Union Carbide India Limited), more known by its brand logo of a cat jumping through the figure of 9, is today being touted as a caged tiger. Though the matter of sale of shares is still pending in the Supreme Court, the purchase of majority share holdings of UCIL by the Williamson Magor group from UCC has been announced. UCIL presently owns 11 factories in the country (four in Calcutta, three in Madras, one each in Hyderabad, Bombay, Lucknow and Srinagar). Their major products are flashlights, photoengraver plates, industrial electrodes, etc. Their annual sale for the year ending 1994 was Rs. 334 crores (US$ 111 million) and their assets worth Rs. 95 crores (US$ 31 million).
UCIL’s record of industrial disasters prior to Bhopal is comparable to that of its parent company in USA. In the four years from 1978 to 1982, there were at least six accidents in the Bhopal factory causing injury and death. Plant operator Mohammed Ashraf was killed by a phosgene gas leak on December 26, 1981. Two other workers were injured. In October 1982, Methyl Iso Cyanate escaped from a broken valve seriously affecting four workers and causing eye irritation and breathlessness among people in the nearby communities.
Union Carbide Corporation, with a majority 50.9% share holding in UCIL, controlled all decisions regarding design, operation, maintenance and management of UCIL facilities in India from its Headquarters at Danbury, Connecticut. At the time of the disaster, Keshub Mahindra was the Chairman, Vijay Gokhale, the Managing Director and Kishore Kamdar the Vice President of UCIL. These three senior officials, along with five officials of the Bhopal factory are currently facing criminal proceedings for culpable homicide, causing grievous hurt, and poisoning and killing of animals through the Bhopal disaster.
Why are they responsible?
There are good reasons for holding UCC, UC(E), UCIL, W. Anderson and the eight Indian officials responsible for the death and suffering caused by the Bhopal disaster, some of which are:
unsafe location and design
The pesticide factory was built in 1969 in the midst of densely populated settlements. Union Carbide chose to store and produce MIC, one of the most deadly chemicals (permitted exposure levels in USA and Britain are 0.02 parts per million) in an area where nearly 120 000 people were living within 2 kms. of the factory in 1984.
The MIC plant was not designed to handle a run-away reaction. When the uncontrolled reaction started, MIC and its reaction products were flowing through the scrubber (meant to neutralize MIC emissions) at more than 200 times its designed capacity.
A Union Carbide Safety Safety Team auditing the Bhopal plant in May 1982, noted a total of 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene / MIC units. It had warned of a “higher potential for a serious incident or more serious consequences if an incident should occur”. This knowledge prior to the incident was available to the accused senior officials and many of the conditions listed in the safety audit were causative elements in the December 2-3 disaster.
A safety report on Carbide’s’ Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC) plant at Institute, West Virginia presented to the corporation in September 1984, listed as one of the major concerns the possibility of a “runaway reaction in the Methyl Iso Cyanate unit storage tanks”.
hazardous operation and maintenance
Methyl Iso Cyanate in the tank was filled to 87% of its capacity while the maximum permissible is 50%. MIC was not stored at zero degree centigrade as prescribed and the refrigeration and cooling systems had been shut down five months before the disaster as part of UCC’s global economy drive. Vital gauges and indicators in the MIC tank were defective. The flare tower meant to burn off MIC emissions was under repair at the time of the disaster and the scrubber contained no caustic soda.
As part of Union Carbide Corporation’s policy on cutting down costs, the work force in the Bhopal factory was brought down by half from 1980 to 1984 with serious consequences upon safety and maintenance. The work crew for the MIC plant was cut in half from twelve to six workers. The maintenance supervisor position had been eliminated for the work shift on duty at the time of the disaster. The period of safety-training to workers in MIC plant was brought down from 6 months to 15 days.
suppression of information
Union Carbide has not informed the workers of the factory and the neighborhood communities about the hazardous nature of its chemicals before, during or after the disaster. Findings of periodic medical check-ups of workers in the Bhopal factory were sent to the US headquarters but kept secret from the workers. On the morning of the disaster, doctors in the government Hamidia hospital had no information on the leaked gases or how to deal with the effects caused by exposure to them and were overwhelmed with the number of patients and the nature of their problems. When they rang up the factory the plant medical officer Dr. Loya informed them that the leaked gases were similar to tear gas and all that the exposed people needed to do was wash their eyes with water!
In addition to causing the Bhopal disaster, Union Carbide Corporation is directly responsible for prolonging the misery and suffering of the survivors. By withholding medical information on the chemicals it has obstructed the provision of proper medical care. By denying interim relief, as directed by two Indian courts, it has caused deprivation of the survivors. Hazardous chemicals dumped within and outside the factory till 1984 have contaminated the soil, ground water and community wells in the vicinity. In 1991, 7 different chemicals including those likely to cause damage to the respiratory system, kidney and liver and two carcinogens have been found in the soil and ground water. Union Carbide’s toxic legacy lingers on in the soil, water and the bodies of men, women and children in Bhopal.
Today a House Committee hearing will investigate the fatal Bayer CropScience plant explosion at Institue (W.Va.) which occurred Aug 28, 2008. On Thursday the Chemical Safety Board will examine the incident publicly.
In a letter to Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the Coalition against Bayer Dangers pointed towards the warnings that were voiced prior to the accident but were rejected by Bayer´s Board of Management.
On March 10, 2008 the Coalition introduced a countermotion to Bayer´s shareholder meeting which stated: “Whereas the volume of supertoxic agents like phosgene and MIC stored at the German Bayer plants was reduced following the Bhopal catastrophe, the tanks in Institute remained as they were. Today, Institute is the only place in the United States where MIC is produced and stored in large volumes. The Bayer Board of Management bears responsibility for the high pollutant emissions, the frequent occurrence of incidents and the constant risks caused by the storage of MIC and phosgene.” Bayer produces carbamate pesticides in Germany without utilizing large quantities of MIC as at Institute.
Philipp Mimkes, board member of the Coalition against Bayer Dangers, also spoke on the issue in Bayer´s shareholder meeting which took place in Cologne/Germany April 25, four months ahead of the Institute explosion. Attending were the Bayer board and supervisory board, the media and about 4,000 shareholders. Mimkes criticized the frequent spills of chemicals and demanded to dismantle MIC- and phosgene-tanks at Institute. Bayer´s CEO Werner Wenning neglected the warnings, stating verbatim that the plant had the “newest security installations and an excellent safety record since 2002”, that the plant was “explicitly lauded by authorities for its safety record” and that no action was necessary.
Philipp Mimkes: “Until today the company has not apologized for the gross negligence by which the methomyl unit has been operated for the past years. No changes in the security management have been announced. Particularly disturbing to us is that Bayer´s recently published Annual Report does not mention the Institute explosion and the death of their workers with one single word.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, after analyzing the incident, also criticized “faulty safety systems, significant shortcomings with the emergency procedures and a lack of employee training”. In total, OSHA identified 13 serious violations of safety regulations.
After the explosion Bayer endeavored to placate everyone by maintaining that the large MIC tanks were accommodated in another part of the factory. Weeks later it emerged that one MIC tank containing up to 20 metric tons of the deadly gas is located above ground less than 20 meters from the explosion. If it had been damaged, the lives of other employees and residents would have been in extreme danger.
In the 1980s, the Institute factory belonged to Union Carbide and was regarded as the “sister plant” to the infamous factory in Bhopal, India where in December 1984 thirty tons of MIC leaked and at least 15,000 people died.
New York Times, March 28, 2009
Bayer: Trying to Limit Disclosure on Explosion
INSTITUTE, W.Va. – Last August, an explosion tore through the Bayer CropScience chemical plant here, killing two employees and raising the fears of residents in what has long been known as Chemical Valley.
Now, a federal agency wants to hold a public hearing to lay out its preliminary findings about what caused the accident. But Bayer, citing a terrorism-related federal law, is trying to limit what the agency can disclose.
Bayer contends that because it has a dock for barge shipments on the adjacent Kanawha River, its entire 400-acre site qualifies under the 2002 federal Maritime Transportation Security Act. It has asked the Coast Guard, which has jurisdiction under the act, to review the public release of “sensitive security information.”
The agency that wants to hold the hearing, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, says it is the first time in its 11 years of operation that a company has tried to limit what could be discussed publicly, and the first time the maritime act has been invoked this way.
“I don’t like the idea that if we went to a meeting in West Virginia and someone asked a question, we’d have to say, ‘Sorry, we can’t talk about it,’ ” said John S. Bresland, the board chairman. “We don’t think any other agency should have the right to tell us what we can put in our reports.”
In particular, Bayer appears to want to limit discussion about the potential hazards posed by a chemical produced and used by the plant – methyl isocyanate, the same chemical responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Bhopal, India, after a Union Carbide plant leaked there in 1984. Until 1986, Union Carbide owned the plant here, which was considered the sister plant.
The chemical safety board believes that if Bayer is successful, it will set a precedent for other companies to limit the release of information.
The board was modeled on the National Transportation Safety Board. And like the transportation board, it has no regulatory power, so it cannot fine a company or order changes in operations. Its power comes from revealing its findings and making recommendations.
“We have a bully pulpit,” Mr. Bresland said, “and we use it by going out in public and talking about what we’ve found.”
After Bayer invoked the maritime act in February, the chemical safety board canceled a March 19 public meeting in West Virginia while it sought to resolve the dispute. It has tentatively rescheduled the hearing for April 23 while awaiting the Coast Guard’s decision, which it could appeal to the Transportation Security Administration.
Bayer’s action also caught the attention of Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Mr. Stupak scheduled an April 21 hearing to review the company’s action, saying, “We are concerned about the way that Bayer may be misusing terrorism laws to suppress information related to the incident.”
Bayer believes it has a strong case for suppressing public discussion of its operations in West Virginia, said a company spokesman, Greg Coffey.
“In security matters, the site comes under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard,” Mr. Coffey said. “We have and will continue to comply with the spirit of the regulations” of the maritime act.
And Bayer appears to have the support of the Coast Guard. A spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil, said that the service considered the entire plant, not just the dock, a “regulated facility,” and that “it might only be prudent to protect that information” Bayer does not want discussed.
But Mr. Bresland said the chemical board contended that the maritime act applied only to transportation of the chemicals, not the onsite storage and processes. Methyl isocyanate, a chemical used in the production of carbamate pesticides, was not directly involved in the August explosion, which the company has said was caused by human error in a unit that contained the less toxic chemical methomyl.
But an above-ground storage tank that can hold up to 40,000 pounds of methyl isocyanate was just 50 feet to 75 feet from the blast area, and a much larger underground tank in a different part of the plant site can store an additional 200,000 pounds. In the Bhopal disaster, 50,000 to 90,000 pounds of the chemical leaked.
It is the onsite storage of the methyl isocyanate (or MIC) that has long concerned West Virginia environmentalists. After the Bhopal disaster, professors at West Virginia State University, which is next to the plant, and residents started People Concerned About MIC to monitor the plant.
“One of the ironies is that in the 1980s, one of the demands we had was that Carbide should act more like Bayer did in Germany and not store MIC at the plant and just make it when it needed to use it,” said Prof. Gerald E. Beller, chairman of the department of political science at the university, who helped start the local group.
There are many other issues related to the accident that the chemical safety board wants to talk about, including the amount of overtime Bayer employees had been working before the accident; how poor communications were between the plant and outside emergency crews the night of the accident; and how one of the two men who died, Barry Withrow, had a toxic level of cyanide in his blood that no one has been able to explain.
But a large part of what the board wants to talk about is the risks posed by the tanks of methyl isocyanate. If the explosion had damaged the smaller above-ground tank in particular, “the consequences of the accident might have been worse,” Mr. Bresland said. By SEAN D. HAMILL
Letter to the Editor:
It is clear from the article “Trying to Limit Disclosure on Explosion ,” that the Chemical Safety Board cannot adequately do their job of making recommendations that lead to a safer chemical industry if they are not allowed to publicly address the real issues of the Bayer explosion. Ignoring these issues is the reason why my community is the only place in the US that has been living under the threat of another Bhopal disaster for over 25 years now. We are seemingly considered acceptable risk factors because we are an Appalachian community made up of predominantly minority and poor white folks. Alternatives to methyl isocyanate (MIC) have been available since prior to Bhopal. Bayer should be required to implement the most inherently safest technology available to not only eliminate national security threats it poses, but also to set a precedence for the health and safety of workers and communities surrounding toxic chemical plants.
Maya Nye, Spokesperson People Concerned About MIC
Friday, April 3, 2009
Rockefeller Urges Immediate Action on Bayer Chemical Explosion
Senator sends letter to Coast Guard Commandant.
WASHINGTON, DC — Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV sent a letter Friday to the United States Coast Guard requesting that they release key findings in the Bayer CropScience chemical explosion investigation, without compromising national security.
The Coast Guard has been working with the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigations Board (CSB) to determine the cause and reaction to the August 2008 Bayer chemical explosion in the Kanawha Valley.
In a letter to Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Senator Rockefeller said:
“I know that the Coast Guard is working closely with the CSB to review its findings and to determine what information can be released to the public. I ask that you consult as soon as possible with the Transportation Security Administration and use your collective discretion to reveal all key findings of the CSB that will inform the public regarding both the incident and any remaining hazards and risks to the community, without compromising our national security interests. As you know, transparency is essential for identifying, correcting, and preventing these types of incidents and improving emergency handling in the future. MTSA regulations should never be permitted to be abused to obstruct a safety investigation.”
April 16, 2009, USA TODAY editorial
Our view on public safety: Security smokescreen hinders chemical plant inquiry
Last August, an explosion at a pesticide plant in West Virginia killed two workers. That was bad enough. But since then, the accident has become a troubling example of what can happen when national security concerns collide with the public’s right to know about safety threats.
In this case, the public has a major interest in finding out as much as possible. The blast occurred in a part of Bayer CropScience’s plant in Institute, W.Va., that’s just 80 feet from an above-ground tank containing one of the deadliest industrial chemicals on earth — methyl isocyanate, or MIC.
That’s the chemical that leaked from a sister facility in Bhopal, India, in 1984, killing thousands of people.
Had this explosion punctured the MIC tank, the results could have been catastrophic. Some 300,000 people live within 25 miles of the plant, located about 7 miles northwest of Charleston.
Those people, and others who live near similar facilities, deserve to understand the risks they face and what plant owners are doing to mitigate them. Yet when the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board launched an investigation of the Institute blast, and scheduled a public hearing to disclose its preliminary findings, obstacles were thrown in its way.
Bayer declared that some of what the safety board planned to disclose was “sensitive security information” under a post-9/11 law meant to safeguard the docks at chemical plants. Though the accident occurred atanother part of the 400-acre site, the Coast Guard agreed with Bayer that it had security jurisdiction over the entire plant.
Though the safety board and the Coast Guard have come to terms for now, the episode is a worrisome demonstration of how easy it is for a company to overwhelm a small agency — the chemical safety board has 36 employees — by burying it with paperwork and making broad national security claims.
Like the National Transportation Safety Board, the chemical safety board has no regulatory authority, and public pressure is often the only tool it has to force companies to change dangerous practices. That makes it crucial for the safety board to be able to make its investigations and recommendations public.
The blunt truth is that neighbors are more likely to die in industrial accidents than terrorist attacks. Policy should be set accordingly.
Report Released on Institute Chemical Plant ExplosionPosted: 7:49 AM Apr 23, 2009
Last Updated: 8:22 PM Apr 23, 2009
Reporter: Associated Press, Anna Baxter
Email Address: email@example.com
Investigators say the explosion on August 28, 2008 was caused by a thermal runaway reaction during the production of an insecticide.The event likely resulted from significant lapses in chemical process safety management at the plant, U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigators said Thursday.
Two operators died as a result of the explosion. Eight other workers reported symptoms of chemical exposure.
“The explosion at Bayer was a very serious and tragic event that could have had additional grave consequences,” CSB Board Chairman John Bresland said. “There were significant lapses in the plant’s process safety management, including inadequate training on new equipment and the overriding of critical safety systems necessitated by the fact the unit had a heater that could not produce the required temperature for safe operation.”
The explosion occurred within 80 feet of a pressure vessel containing more than 13,000 pounds of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, Chairman Bresland said.
MIC is the same chemical that caused death and injury in the Bhopal accident 25 years ago.
“As our investigation continues, we will look further into the issues surrounding the safe placement of the tank and its potential vulnerability,” Bresland said. “We note that other chemical companies, notably DuPont, no longer store MIC in their chemical production and we are looking into other systems that make and then immediately use the MIC, eliminating the need for storage.”
If you would like to read the entire CSB report, just click on the link below.
INSTITUTE, W.Va. (AP) — Nine months after an explosion at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute killed two workers, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is ready to release the findings of its investigation into the event.The board plans to discuss the findings at a Thursday morning news conference, followed by a longer presentation at a public hearing at West Virginia State University in the evening.
The news conference is set for 10:00 a.m.
On Tuesday, a congressional committee found that Bayer withheld information from emergency responders immediately after the blast, and has subsequently used a terrorism-related law to keep some documents secret.
The staff report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee also said Bayer provided inaccurate and misleading information to the public after the explosion.
Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV called the findings connected to the Bayer Chemical Explosion an “outrage” and called upon the Chemical Security Board to continue to investigate the Bayer explosion.
Senator Rockefeller urged Bayer to cooperate fully after the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to investigate the 2008 Bayer Chemical Plant explosion.
“These findings are an outrage. I was expecting bad news, but this is far worse than I could have imagined and very disturbing,” said Senator Rockefeller, who submitted testimony at the hearing. “Bayer Chemical Company owes all West Virginia families a clear explanation for this explosion, the response, and any potential hazards, and should cooperate fully with this investigation. We must make sure this never happens again.”
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Report Released on Institute Chemical Plant Explosion
BREAKING NEWS: Charleston Streets Closed for Hazmat Crews
Getting The Facts About Bateman Hospital
A Kanawha County circuit court judge gets some answers about conditions at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington. It’s one of two state-run mental health care hospitals in West Virginia and reports over the last year have indicated overcrowded conditions for patients and overworked employees.
Judge Duke Bloom held an evidentiary hearing Friday. The state Department of Health and Human Services tried to stop it from happening by appealing to the state Supreme Court but justices ruled in Bloom’s favor.
The first witness called to testify was Marybeth Carlisle, the CEO of Bateman Hospital. Charleston attorney Dan Hedges who’s been a mental health advocate for 25 years questioned her.
Carlisle admitted the hospital is often above its 90-bed capacity and averages about 110 patients per day. Along with overcrowding there’s a shortage of health care workers. “RNs, LPNs and health service workers…14 are vacant today,” she said.
Judge Bloom wanted to know why so many positions are not filled. “It’s difficult work. It’s a hard environment to work in,” Carlisle said. “Our pay is not competitive with the private sector.” In fact, Carlisle testified, the health care workers make significantly less than their counterparts at Cabell-Huntington Hospital.
But the issue that Bloom questioned most was the overtime work.
“There are times when we have to mandate overtime to keep the patients safe,” Carlisle told the judge. “It’s not always popular. It’s very hard on staff. It’s very hard to be told you can’t go home tonight and go to your son’s ballgame ’cause you have to stay over. It’s difficult.”
But how difficult? Carlisle told the judge the average health care worker at Bateman works an average of 8-16 hours of overtime a week. Bloom asked if healthcare workers often did more than that. “Some may be working 60-70 hours?” Carlisle replied. “That’s right.” Bloom asked “Some more?” Carlisle replied, “Yes, that’s right.”
When cross-examined by Assistant state Attorney General Charles Dunham, Carlisle insisted her staff is top notch and so is the facility. “We’ve pretty much revamped the entire physical environment of the hospital. We’ve made the units more attractive and the couches more comfortable and more homelike,” she said.
Bateman is in the construction phase on two new wards. But that won’t increase the number of beds it will just give patients more room. Carlisle says realistically, they need 150 beds at the facility and a lot more staff in order to take care of the state’s mental health hospitalization needs.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – The head of a state psychiatric hospital in Huntington testified Friday that persistent overcrowding has led to routine violations of state regulations and an atmosphere of “chaos” at times.
Mildred-Mitchell-Bateman Hospital CEO Mary Beth Carlisle said in a Kanawha County Circuit Court hearing the 90-bed facility is consistently pushed beyond that capacity. Staff members are working more overtime, some of it mandatory, and the number of psychiatric emergencies has increased as a result.
“For every extra patient and every extra staff member on the unit, the chaos increases,” she said.
The evidentiary hearing was convened by Judge Duke Bloom, as part of a continuing case that dates back to a 1981 court ruling that altered how mental health care is administered in West Virginia.
Bloom called for the hearing after reports last summer documented persistent overcrowding and violations of state regulations at the Huntington hospital. The state Department of Health and Human Resources unsuccessfully tried to have the state Supreme Court block Bloom’s order for a hearing.
During the Friday hearing, Carlisle testified about the problems with crowding at the hospital, challenges that affect everything from patient care to the hospital’s $25 million budget.
Patients are sometimes kept three to a room, violating state regulations about maintaining 100 square feet per patient. Some of the rooms don’t have bathrooms, and patients complain about lack of privacy.
As of Friday, there were 99 patients at the hospital, with 59 others diverted to private facilities at the state’s expense. While it costs West Virginia about $500 per day to keep a patient in Bateman, the costs of diversion range from $700 to $1,200, and make up nearly 20 percent of Bateman’s budget, Carlisle said.
Along with overcrowding, the hospital is also below its targeted staffing levels. Recruiting psychiatrists, nurses and health aides is difficult, Carlisle said, because salary levels are set by the state, and workers can often get higher pay working at private hospitals.
“It’s difficult work, it’s a hard environment to work in and our pay’s not competitive with the private sector,” she said.
Carlisle’s comments were echoed by Dr. Shahid Masood, the hospital’s clinical director. The staffing plan calls for six psychiatrists, Masood said. There are currently five, with two scheduled to leave by June. The hospital has been advertising nationally for 14 months, but so far has received only two inquiries.
“I think we have reached a point where, if this continues, it will not be sustainable,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Carlisle said, Bateman still provides good patient care. She pointed to the hospital’s rate of using restraints and seclusion for agitated patients, which is well below the national average.
She also said the planned addition this summer of 20 beds should ease crowding at the hospital, although it won’t end diversions.
“As CEO of the facility, you would agree that 110 beds is grossly inadequate?” Bloom asked Carlisle.
She agreed that it is for current conditions, but both Carlisle and Masood said more outpatient services would keep a lot of patients from needing acute care hospitals.
“In a perfect world, I would not want to see more patients committed to a state hospital,” she said.
Masood estimated that Bateman usually has between 35 and 45 patients who don’t need hospitalization, but for whom there aren’t sufficient outpatient resources, like group homes.
Bateman is not alone in its crowding problems. The William R. Sharpe Hospital in Weston also consistently reports more patients than it has capacity. Behavioral health care providers and advocate groups have argued that more state resources have to be devoted to outpatient care to ease the burden on the hospitals.
The hearing is scheduled to resume in Bloom’s courtroom Monday morning.
Once the hearing is concluded, Bloom may decided to issue an order to DHHR based on his findings.