Bayer used ‘campaign of secrecy’ - US House committee

21 April 2009 18:57  [Source: ICIS news]

US House panel probes Bayer blastHOUSTON (ICIS news)--The chairman of the US House Energy and Commerce Committee accused Bayer CropScience officials on Tuesday of using "a campaign of secrecy” regarding the explosion that killed two workers at a plant near Charleston, West Virginia, last August.

Investigation results revealed that Bayer withheld critical information from emergency responders and restricted the use of information provided to federal investigators, according to committee chairman US Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat-California).

Bayer also provided “inaccurate and misleading information” to the public, Waxman said.

Waxman accused Bayer of attempting to marginalise news outlets and citizens concerned about the dangers posed by Bayer’s storage of the toxic petrochemical methyl isocyanate. Methyl isocyanate, often used in the production of rubber and adhesives, was involved in the 1984 chemical spill that killed thousands in Bhopal, India.

“Twenty-five years after the catastrophe in India, I think it’s finally time to ask whether it makes sense to allow Bayer to continue producing and storing such massive amounts of this highly toxic chemical,” Waxman said.

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records show the company has stored 100,000-999,999 lb (45-453 tonnes) of methyl isocyanate at the plant. The explosion occurred near a large tank that held about 40,000 lb of the chemical.

Had fragment from the nearby explosion struck the methyl isocyanate tank, the committee “might be examining a catastrophe rivaling the Bhopal disaster,” said US Representative Bart Stupak (Democrat-Michigan).

The committee said it had three specific findings regarding Bayer’s “campaign of secrecy”.

First, Bayer failed to provide emergency responders on the night of the explosion with critical information about the scope of the explosion, the potential chemical hazards involved, or the actions needed to safeguard the community, Waxman said.

Second, there are “serious questions” about the vulnerabilities of Bayer’s inventory of methyl isocyanate and about methyl isocyanate monitoring systems that were out of service at the time of the explosion.

Finally, the committee said Bayer “is now attempting to conceal information about the explosion by invoking, and in some cases misusing, a statute governing maritime transportation security to designate unprecedented amounts of material as ‘sensitive security information’.”

The CSB, which will hold a hearing of its own on Thursday to discuss its investigation findings, had that hearing pushed back more than a month after Bayer argued that discussing such information publically would violate US law by compromising plant security.

However, Bayer would not disclose what aspects of the investigation it felt could compromise security protocols.

Bayer did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ICIS news.

Waxman said Congress would look to the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for recommendations on how Bayer can reduce its methyl isocyanate stockpile and change its procedures to inherently safer technologies.

“This is not an easy task, but it is essential, and its time has come,” Waxman said.

For more on Bayer visit ICIS company intelligence
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By: Ben DuBose
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