Bayer to shut controversial US methyl isocyanate unit in 2012

12 January 2011 16:57  [Source: ICIS news]

Bayer site in Institute, West VirginiaHOUSTON (ICIS)--Germany-based agrochemical supplier Bayer CropScience will cease production of methyl isocyanate (MIC) at its plant in Institute, West Virginia,  by mid-2012, sources said on Wednesday.

The announcement comes prior to a 20 January presentation from the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which planned to issue its final report and recommendations from an investigation into the August 2008 explosion at the Bayer facility.

In that incident, two workers died following an explosion in the plant’s methomyl unit near a large tank that held about 40,000 lb (18.1 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.

Maya Nye, spokesperson for the West Virginia-based People Concerned About MIC environmental group, called the development a “monumental step in our 26-year campaign to keep our community safe”.

The company previously had said it would cut its methyl isocyanate inventory by 80% by eliminating on-site production of two methyl isocyanate-derived pesticides, and would discontinue its production of the insecticide methomyl.

Bayer said its methyl isocyanate unit would be phased out over the next 18 months to allow for an orderly market exit and to honour the company’s commitment to crop growers.

Following an overhaul and technical modification of the unit, Bayer said it would complete a planned start up over the next few weeks to ensure safe operations during the remaining production period.

The unit would then be shut down and decommissioned in mid-2012, according to the company.

Bayer said that following its August 2010 agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out its Temik pesticide, of which methyl isocyanate is an ingredient, the production of certain other pesticides was “no longer economically viable”.

Bayer also said it would shut down its formulation facility in Woodbine, Georgia. As a result of the shutdowns,  Bayer said it would cut about 300 combined jobs at the Institute and Woodbine facilities.

Those job cuts were part of Bayer’s global restructuring plan announced in November 2010, according to the company.

The shutdowns would result in one-time costs of about €200m ($260m), Bayer said.

($1 = €0.77)

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By: Ben DuBose
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