Sustained Outrage

Probing the Bayer blast

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Indeed, as an alert Sustained Outrage reader pointed out, a congressional hearing will be held on April 23 to investigate the August explosion that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.

The hearing is being convened by Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and by Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of Waxman’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The hearing is to “examine the causes of the accident, the adequacy of the response, and the scope of the information provided to the first responders, employees and the public.”

The hearing was apparently announced in Friday, but I didn’t hear about it until I read Mike Harman’s comment on this morning’s Sustained Outrage post.

waxmanap.jpgWaxman has a reputation for his vigorous oversight of government agencies, and it will be interesting to see if he looks into the recent controversy over  whether findings of a federal Chemical Safety Board probe of the accident should be hidden from the public. As Harman and Maya Nye of People Concerned About MIC pointed out to me, the congressional hearing is set for the same day as the Chemical Safety Board public meeting announced Friday.

Maybe Waxman will also ask the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration why a chemical plant accident that killed two workers draws only $143,000 in fines from OSHA inspectors, despite the plant’s long history of safety problems. Or maybe Waxman will look into what is — or maybe isn’t — going on with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s promise to investigate whether Bayer violating federal chemical leak reporting laws when it stalled releasing information to local emergency responders. Perhaps Waxman’s committee will even push to know why EPA doesn’t appear to be examining if Bayer is complying with federal chemical process safety requirements.

Kanawha Valley residents may recall that Waxman caused quite a stir in the days after the Bhopal disaster, when he released an internal Union Carbide memo that warned of a “runaway reaction that could cause a catastrophic failure of the storage tanks holding poisoning MIC gas” at the Institute plant, which Carbide then owned.