The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have announced a $5.6 million settlement with Bayer CropScience LP to resolve violations of federal chemical accident prevention laws at its facility in Institute, West Virginia, where an explosion killed two people in 2008. Under the settlement, Bayer CropScience committed to spending $4.23 million to improve emergency preparedness and response in Institute and protect the Kanawha River, pay a $975,000 penalty, and spend approximately $452,000 to implement a series of measures to improve safety at chemical storage facilities across the United States.

“The tragic accident at the Bayer CropScience facility in West Virginia underscores the need for hazardous chemicals to be stored and handled in accordance with the law to protect worker health and the environment,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement will establish important safeguards at its facilities across the country and improve emergency response capabilities in the Institute, West Virginia community.”

"Catastrophic consequences"

“Failures by a chemical manufacturer to comply with safety, accident prevention, and response requirements can have catastrophic consequences,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to worker safety. Under this judicially enforceable settlement, Bayer Crop Science will not only pay a penalty but commits to significant improvements in preparedness and response capabilities at its facilities across the country.”

Under the settlement, Bayer CropScience will implement a series of steps to prevent future chemical releases at its facilities in West Virginia, Texas, Missouri and Michigan by improving inspections to identify potential safety issues and standardize facility safety operating procedures. At the facility in Institute, the company will conduct emergency response exercises with local responders and ensure proper certification of facility environmental management systems. Bayer must complete the majority of these actions within three years.

How the money will be used

The nearly $4.23 million for environmental projects will benefit the Institute community by improving mobile communications for local first responders, providing emergency response equipment and training for local fire and police departments, shelter-in-place training and hazardous waste collections at local public schools and installing equipment to prevent pollution from water used in Bayer CropScience’s manufacturing process from reaching the Kanawha River. Local emergency responders may start receiving equipment as early as December 2015.

The complaint details numerous problems that arose at the pesticide manufacturing facility where the company did not comply with its standard operating procedures designed to prevent accidental releases. In 2008, a new digital control system was installed, but safety interlock associated with the control system was not properly engaged at startup. Employees were not fully trained to understand or operate the system and failed to follow procedures for sampling, temperature control and flow safeguards. The result was an uncontrollable buildup in a treatment unit causing a chemical reaction resulting in the explosion, fire and loss of life. During the incident, the company delayed emergency officials trying to access the plant and failed to provide adequate information to 911 operators.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.