Bayer Settles 2008 Fatal Plant Explosion Lawsuit
Bayer CropScience has paid $5.6 million to settle violations of US chemical accident prevention laws stemming from a 2008 explosion that killed two people at its Institute, West Virginia, production site for pesticides. The facility once belonged to now defunct US chemical producer Union Carbide.
In addition to a $975,000 civil penalty, the US arm of the German group, headquartered at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, agreed with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice to invest $4.23 million in improving emergency preparedness and response at the West Virginia site as well as protecting the Kanawha River from chemical discharges.
Bayer also must spend $452,000 on safety improvements at chemical storage facilities in the US states of Texas, Missouri and Michigan, in addition to West Virginia. The majority of the mandated actions will have to be completed within three years.
The US Bayer subsidiary previously paid a $143,000 fine to the US Occupational Safety and Administration for citations stemming from the incident that occurred during the restart of the site’s methomyl unit following a lengthy maintenance turnaround.
In its investigation, the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) blamed the blast on a reaction inside a 4,500-gallon tank that broke down waste from the process to manufacture methomyl, used at the site to produce the pesticide Larvin. According to Bayer, methomyl is no longer produced at the site.
According to the CSB report, plant management withheld information from county emergency officials during the response. In particular, it said a gas monitoring system had not been activated as required during start-up and that the plant’s emergency response staff apparently was unaware of this, falsely claiming that no gases had been emitted.
In a news release, EPA said the accident underscores the need for hazardous chemicals to be stored and handled in accordance with the law to protect worker health and the environment, remarking that the settlement with Bayer “will establish important safeguards at its facilities across the country and improve emergency response capabilities in the Institute, West Virginia community.”
CSB has recommended that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources establish a Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program that would have the authority to inspect and regulate such plants, and make public its ongoing findings. Bayer is not the only chemical company to attract negative attention – in particular over wastewater discharges –in the state, where local authorities often have been accused of ignoring violations.
Legal proceedings against DuPont over discharges of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8) from its Parkersburg, West Virginia, site began on Sept. 13. The court is hearing a lawsuit brought by an Ohio woman who charges that the presence of the chemical in drinking water supplies from the river on which the plant is located caused her kidney cancer.