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Bayer Explosion And Fire

June 29, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 26

The explosion and fire at Bayer’s St. Albans, W.Va., plant could easily have resulted in the release of tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), the notorious killer of thousands in Bhopal, India, 25 years ago and the cause of the demise of Union Carbide (C&EN Online, Latest News, Aug. 29, 2008).

I see no justification for any company to be allowed to store MIC, even in a day tank. The risk is huge and is clearly unnecessary. Others have figured out how to make MIC and use it on the go. Bayer’s reason for not doing so seems to be that it would be too expensive to go that route at St. Albans. I would tell Bayer to spend that money if it wants to stay in the U.S. and continue in the business of making the end product that requires MIC. (As a matter of curiosity, I would ask Bayer if it would be permitted to store MIC in Germany.)

The state of West Virginia should not permit restarting the facility if it still includes MIC storage. If necessary, the federal government should support this position. I guess I would leave it to Bayer to dispose of its remaining MIC, but the company’s attitude leaves me doubting whether it would do that safely.

Victor J. Reilly
Aiken, S.C.

Bayer management is irresponsible. Certain practices involving the highly toxic MIC at Bayer CropScience’s plant at Institute, W.Va., are conducted with callous disregard of a potential disaster waiting to happen. Local residents, Bayer employees, and all those concerned with public welfare should act now to compel Bayer to guarantee that the history of Bhopal will not be repeated. Significant reduction of storage and handling of MIC should be undertaken immediately.

The worst industrial accident in history occurred in Bhopal in 1984 as a result of the release of a highly toxic vapor cloud of MIC. Not only did more than 1,000 local residents die, but a once-great company, Union Carbide, subsequently failed as a result of that tragedy. Bayer management is well aware of the hazards associated with MIC. They narrowly escaped a repeat performance of Bhopal on the night of Aug. 28, 2008, at Institute.

George L. Brode



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