Sustained Outrage

Close call: Look how close the MIC tank was

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Here are some photos made public today by the federal Chemical Safety Board, showing the location of the chemical tank that exploded to one of the methyl isocyanate tanks at the Institute plant.

We’ve got a story online based on a report by the staff from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which held a hearing to investigate the August 2008 explosion.

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The “residue treater” is the part of the Methomyl unit that exploded. And the MIC tank shown is a “day tank” that can store up to nearly 40,000 pounds of the deadly chemical.  Congressional investigators explained:

The Committee initiated its investigation because the explosion came dangerously close to compromising another nearby tank filled with several tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), an extremely toxic chemical that killed approximately 4,000 people after a leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984.  Twenty-five years later, Bayer’s facility in West Virginia is the only site in the United States that continues to produce and store large amounts of MIC.

The explosion at Bayer’s plant was particularly ominous and unnerving because a “residue treater” weighing several thousand pounds rocketed 50 feet through the plant, twisting steel beams, severing pipes, and destroying virtually everything in its path.  Had this projectile struck the MIC tank, the consequences could have eclipsed the 1984 disaster in India.

John Bresland, chairman of the Chemical Safety Board, said:

… the residue treater could have been propelled in any direction.  About 80 feet from the original location of the treater, there is a 37,000-pound capacity tank of methyl isocyanate (MIC), which held 13,800 pounds of the highly toxic and volatile liquid on the night of the accident.  The CSB is further investigating whether this tank is located in a safe position and whether alternative arrangements to using or storing MIC have been considered at Bayer, or should be considered in the future.

And here’s a photo of that MIC “day tank,” showing debris from the explosion … the chemical board described it this way: Explosion debris observed by CSB investigators at the base of the blast blanket surrounding the MIC tank.

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