Sustained Outrage

Bayer update: Bill would cap MIC storage

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of West Virginia lawmakers introduced H.B. 4654.  If passed, the bill would put a 5,000-pound cap on the amount of deadly methyl isocyanate gas any chemical plant in the state could store.

Of course, the legislation is aimed at the Bayer CropScience plant out in Institute, which has for decades maintained a huge stockpile of the chemical best known for killing thousands of people when it leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in December 1984.

Now, Bayer promised back in August 2009 that it would reduce its MIC inventory by 80 percent, to a maximum of about 50,000 pounds. More recently, it has not been clear that Bayer is on schedule to complete this project by its stated goal of August 2010.

Under the legislation, any company that stores more than 5,000 pounds after July 1 could be fined up to $20,000 per day of violation.

All 11 delegates from Kanawha County’s three delegate districts co-sponsored the legislation — that includes the three Republicans from the 32nd District, including House Minority Leader Tim Armstead. The lead sponsor is Delegate Bonnie Brown.

Here are the legislative findings in the bill:

The containment of extremely hazardous chemicals transported, stored and used for commercial production and manufacturing poses an exceptionally serious public safety risk. An accident and explosion in August of 2008 killed two people in Institute, West Virginia, and potentially exposed tens of thousands of people to methyl isocyanate in the greater Charleston, West Virginia area. Methyl isocyanate is the same chemical that killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India in 1984. If a large release had occurred at the Institute facility, thousands of residents could have been injured or killed in areas surrounding the manufacturing facility. Methyl isocyanate is a colorless liquid with a distinct sharp odor. Due to the highly water-reactive nature of the chemical, this compound may reside in the atmosphere for many days following initial release. Human exposure to methyl isocyanate poses an immediate danger to health by causing ophthalmic irritation, respiratory problems and skin corrosiveness. Acute exposure to high vapor concentrations causes pulmonary edema, restricted lung capacity, and in many cases, death. Because of the proven severe public and environmental risks associated with the storage and use of methyl isocyanate, the Legislature finds it of compelling matter of local safety concern to place a limit on the amounts of on-site methyl isocyanate stored in manufacturing as well as transported within locations of this state.