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Reports on chemical plant accidents delayed

A report on a deadly 2008 explosion and fire at Bayer Corp.'s Institute site and a report on three chemical releases in January at DuPont's Belle plant will not be completed until next year, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said.

In July, just three weeks after becoming chairman of the safety board, Rafael Moure-Eraso toured Bayer's Institute site and said he looked forward to releasing a report this fall on the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed Bayer employees Barry Withrow and Bill Oxley.

Moure-Eraso scheduled the visit after Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper complained about the board's delay in releasing its report. During his July visit, Moure-Eraso met with Carper and community activists. He said afterwards that he understood that people are concerned about the presence of methyl isocyanate, also known as MIC, at the Institute site.

MIC was not involved in the 2008 explosion and fire, the chemical that resulted in thousands of fatalities when it was released into the air in 1984 from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. However, the safety board has said that the explosion at Institute endangered a tank 80 feet away that was used for daytime storage of the deadly substance.

Following his meetings with Carper and community activists, Moure-Eraso said he understood that people are concerned about the presence of MIC at the Institute site. He added, "My message is, I understand their concerns and look forward to the report in the fall, which I hope will address the concerns and provide the community with information."

Asked on Monday about the status of the report, Hillary Cohen, the safety board's director of public affairs, issued a prepared statement. "The Bayer investigation report continues to undergo a rigorous review process within the CSB," she said. "While we had hoped to complete it by the end of this year and hold a public meeting in Charleston, we are now aiming for January 2011."

Carper said Tuesday, "I spend as much time worrying about trying to save those jobs down there (at Institute) as I do about this report. I'm very concerned about the agreement Bayer reached with the EPA."

In August, Bayer reached an agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to phase out the pesticide aldicarb - a major product of the Institute site.

Bayer Corp. President Greg Babe said in September the company was evaluating what the phase-out means for the Institute site. "But we remain committed to that site," he said then. "We believe it will be a world-class industrial park."

Last week Bayer announced it is undertaking a major worldwide corporate restructuring. The company said Monday that it is discussing internally the impact the restructuring may have on Bayer in specific countries and sites.

Carper said Tuesday, "We all have a grave concern about what's going to happen to that plant. At the same time we've got a responsibility to be concerned about public notification and handling and conduct involved in fixed-site chemical plants.

"The Chemical Safety Board undertook the responsibility to investigate the accident and report to the community," Carper said. "There were two deaths. I don't think it takes a lot of brilliant detective work to know there were terrible mistakes made that resulted in that incident.

"I filed a complaint with the U.S. Attorney's Office," he said. "I was hopeful the U.S. Attorney's Office would do something about it. I filed a complaint with the Chemical Safety Board to do what they said they would do - issue a timely report. So they're all different but they're all related, they're about the same place.

"It would have been much better if they had issued a report and we could put this behind us. I am fearful about what will happen to that plant for a lot of reasons. It does not help to have this uncertainty hanging over it."

During his July visit, Moure-Eraso said he was not sure when the board would release a report on the Belle incidents. One of those incidents - the sudden release of phosgene - resulted in the death of DuPont employee Danny Fish.

Moure-Eraso said in July, "One of the issues we've dealt with is the fact that the same investigative team that attended to the Bayer investigation also had to take authority of the incident at DuPont. Of course this is a lot of additional work and contributed to us having to have a longer time to finish a report. I am focusing on the Bayer issue now."

On Monday the board's Cohen said work is proceeding on the Belle investigation "and the team expects the final report to have completed the review process by no later than the end of the first quarter, March 31, 2011, although it is working for completion well before that date.

"Team members were pulled off this investigation several times for brief period to participate in other investigations, causing the delay," Cohen said.

The safety board's website lists 17 open investigations, including the Institute and Belle probes and an investigation into the April 20 explosion and fire on the BP/Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. That accident resulted in the deaths of 11 workers and a massive oil spill.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

 


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