CSB cancels hearing as Bayer claims confidentiality

25 February 2009 19:58  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has canceled a public meeting related to an investigation of an August 2008 explosion, amid concerns from Bayer CropScience that discussing the results in public could violate a maritime law intended to keep security-sensitive information confidential, the chemical board said on Wednesday.

Daniel Horowitz, director of public affairs for the chemical board, said the meeting was called off so that the agency could take a closer look into Bayer’s confidentiality claims regarding its plant.

An explosion last August at Bayer’s West Carbamoylation Center near Charleston, West Virginia, killed two workers and resulted in a chemical release that started a fire. Board members had scheduled a meeting on 19 March to discuss concerns about a methyl isocyanate tank located near the site of the blast.

Bayer uses methyl isocyanate, a toxic petrochemical often used in the production of rubber and adhesives, to make methomyl. The methomyl unit at the West Virginia facility has a tank located near the explosion point that can hold up to 40,000 lb (18 tonnes) of methyl isocyanate.

But according to Bayer lawyers, the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act protects the company from public disclosure of information related to the plant’s security detail.

While Bayer declined comment on the link between methyl isocyanate storage and deterring terrorist attacks, company spokesman Tom Dover said the company believed its plant was covered by the law.

According to The Charleston Gazette, chemical plant safety advocates were “shocked” by the board’s decision, saying it raises concerns that company attorneys may have found a legal loophole to detail detailed investigations of plant accidents.

“We would hope that this does not become a precedent,” Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace, told the newspaper.

CSB chairman John Bresland told the newspaper that Bayer officials were also concerned over possible negative media coverage, as well as on whether the meeting would transform into a broader debate over the plant’s methyl isocyanate storage.

EPA records show the company stores 100,000-999,999 lb of methyl isocyanate at the plant.

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By: Ben DuBose
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