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Union Carbide Buys Back Troubled West Virginia Plant

Chemicals: Facility once produced lethal methyl isocyanate

by Alexander H. Tullo
April 3, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 14

The Institute Industrial Park in Institute, W.Va.—well-known among local residents for once producing lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC)—is returning to the firm that first set it up: Union Carbide, now a Dow Chemical subsidiary.

Bayer CropScience is divesting the 460-acre site to Dow for an undisclosed amount.

Dow is one of Bayer’s tenants at the park. Other firms at the Kanawha Valley chemical complex include FMC and the former Union Carbide industrial gas business Praxair.

Union Carbide bought the site from the U.S. government in 1947 to make products that eventually included MIC, an insecticide intermediate. After an MIC leak killed thousands of people in 1984 at a Union Carbide joint venture in Bhopal, India, West Virginia residents grew worried that a similar accident might occur there.

Rhône-Poulenc bought the Institute facility from Carbide in 1986. Bayer acquired it in 2002.

In 2008 a Bayer vessel at the site exploded, killing two workers. Shrapnel from the explosion came dangerously close to a storage tank containing 13,000 lb of MIC.

Bayer started winding down the site’s MIC-based carbamate chemistry in 2011: It closed plants that made aldicarb and carbaryl insecticides, and it decided not to restart a shuttered MIC plant.

Today, Bayer makes only thiodicarb, used in its Larvin insecticide, at the Institute plant. After transfer of the property and infrastructure to Dow, Bayer will remain as a tenant.

“Without additional production capacity, Bayer CropScience does not have the critical mass needed to make continued ownership of the site economically viable,” says Jim Covington, Bayer’s head of the Institute Industrial Park.

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