The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is continuing to investigate the serious explosion that occurred one year ago at the Bayer CropScience (Bayer) pesticide manufacturing site in Institute, West Virginia. The board has completed the collection of most of the evidence on the causes of the explosion itself. Consistent with a May 2009 request from Congress, the investigation is currently examining options for Bayer to reduce or eliminate the use and storage of highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) at the Institute site.

This week, several Bayer officials briefed CSB personnel on a plan which they said would reduce the average inventory of MIC at the Institute site by 80 percent. This would be accomplished in part by eliminating the on-site production of two MIC-derived carbamate pesticides, and in part by restricting the inventory of MIC needed for producing two remaining pesticides. They also stated the company would end the bulk storage of MIC in aboveground tanks, including the 40,000-pound capacity MIC “day tank” that was located approximately 80 feet away from the point of origin of the August 28 explosion. That tank was exposed to potential projectiles and other hazards from the explosion. Bayer indicated that all the changes should be completed within about 12 months.

Any measures by Bayer to reduce the inventory of MIC at the facility are a positive development, provided that the safety and environmental risk is truly mitigated, according to CSB Chairman John Bresland. If implemented in a careful and conscientious manner, the steps Bayer has outlined will lessen the risk to the public and the workforce from an uncontrolled release of MIC, according to Bresland. Bayer stated that the current round of changes would be implemented at a cost of $25 million and without any loss of jobs at the Institute plant.

The CSB team will continue to examine the feasibility of switching to alternative chemicals or processes, as requested by Congress. Said Bresland: “In the meantime, I urge Bayer to continue to pursue measures to improve the safety of the site. These include ensuring that operating procedures are up-to-date and are followed, that air monitoring systems are adequate and are functional, and that there is adequate staffing and training for all hazardous processes.”