Bayer CropScience will pay $5.6 million to resolve alleged violations related to a fatal 2008 explosion at its Institute, W.Va., pesticide manufacturing plant, near Charleston. The blast, which killed two workers and sent flames hundreds of feet in the air, occurred 80 feet from a tank of methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic chemical used at the facility at the time.
The settlement the multinational agricultural chemical giant struck with the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency commits Bayer to spend $4.23 million to improve emergency preparedness and response in Institute. Part of the money will also go to protect the Kanawha River, which flows next to the plant. And Bayer will fund $452,000 in safety measures at its other facilities in Texas, Missouri, Michigan, and West Virginia. The company will pay a $975,000 penalty to the government.
Cynthia Giles, an EPA assistant administrator, says the settlement “will establish important safeguards at its facilities across the country and improve emergency response capabilities in the Institute community.”
The blast resulted from a series of missteps during a start-up in which Bayer failed to adequately train workers and did not comply with its own federally approved standard operating procedures, EPA says. Moreover, Bayer did not provide adequate accident information to emergency responders and actually blocked most of them from entering the facility, according to the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board. Frustrated responders included the West Virginia Fire Marshal, who was held up at the plant gate by Bayer officials, according to testimony at a volatile 2009 CSB community hearing.
The $4.23 million will pay for improvement to mobile communications for local first responders. It will also go to new emergency response equipment and training for local fire and police departments, better shelter-in-place training for the nearby community, and installation of equipment to prevent the plant’s manufacturing process water from reaching the nearby river.
“Operations at the plant are very different than they were seven years ago,” says Jim Covington, head of Bayer operations at Institute. He stresses that methyl isocyanate, which was stored in large quantities at the time but was not involved in the accident, is no longer used or stored at the facility.