US chem safety board designs study on methyl isocyanate use

26 April 2010 23:55  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has designed the framework of a $600,000 (€450,000) study for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the use and storage of methyl isocyanate (MIC), it said on Monday.

The study would examine the feasibility of implementing alternative chemicals or processes by examining the cost of alternatives at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute, West Virginia, the CSB said in a notice filed in the 23 April Federal Register. MIC is used in the manufature of certain pesticides.

Congress appropriated $600,000 for the study. The study would be open to public comment until 10 May, the CSB said.

“The goal of the NAS study is to determine whether further reductions or the elimination of MIC use are achievable at Bayer, and what are the costs of doing so,” CSB chairman John Bresland said.

“The study will also lay the foundation for better understanding how chemical companies across the country could adopt inherently safer technologies to protect the public and their workers from chemical accident hazards,” he added.

In August 2008, two workers died as a result of an explosion in the Institute plant’s methomyl unit near a large tank that held about 40,000 lb (18 tonnes) of methyl isocyanate.

Had fragments from the explosion struck the methyl isocyanate tank, the damage might have rivalled the 1984 chemical spill that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, according to Congressmen who held hearings on the case.

Bayer said it had examined alternative technologies in studies and had determined that Bayer’s process for storing the toxic petrochemical was as safe as the other technologies.

In the aftermath of investigations from both the CSB and Congress, Bayer committed to reducing its methyl isocyanate by 80%, it said. Even so, investigators went forward with the recommendation and funding for the study.

Depending on public comments received and the availability of additional funding, the CSB could request the NAS study be expanded to include additional topics such as the use of hydrofluoric acid in refinery alkylation processes or chlorine in water treatment, it said.

The panel for the study would include experts from the fields of industry, academia, community, environmental and labour, the CSB said.

($1 = €0.75)

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By: Ben DuBose
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