Sustained Outrage

Aldicarb deal prompts closing of Bayer plant in Ga.

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While Bayer CropScience officials aren’t saying what the phase-out of the pesticide aldicarb means for employees at their Institute plant in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley, the news doesn’t sound good for workers at a related plant in Georgia.

According to this article from the Tribune and Georgian, Bayer has already announced plans to shut down its Woodbine, Ga., site:

According to company spokesman Greg Coffey, the closure of the Woodbine factory follows an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out the production of aldicarb, which is marketed as Temik. The insecticide has been used on a variety of crops for 40 years.

“This action will have a direct impact on the company’s Woodbine facility, whose principal activity is the formulation and packaging of the aldicarb-based insecticide Temik, a granular product used by farmers in the United States and around the world for the past 40 years to control damaging pests in a number of crops. Bayer CropScience has no plans at this time to initiate alternative formulation operations at the 84-person facility,” Coffey said.

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Secret meetings, Aug. 27, 2010

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Today’s issue of The State Register contained two meetings that violated the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law. The agencies involved were the Fayette County Board of Health and the Information Technology Council.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Another Thursday, another batch of stories we admire.

After a three-year legal fight, the Jackson County (Ore.) Sheriff must pay almost $44,000 in legal fees after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that he wrongly withheld the names of people with concealed handguns from the Medford Mail Tribune. The newspaper was trying to determine how many teachers had permits to carry guns after a local teacher sued the county for permission to carry a gun on school grounds. “We really had no desire to see the sheriff spend money on legal fees instead of patrol deputies, but we also think it’s important to make sure that public officials follow the law themselves and that they make every effort to keep public records open to the public,” said Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter.

Building on a New Yorker profile of libertarians David and Charles Koch, two billionaire brothers who have given millions to right-wing causes, noted that David Koch’s company Koch Industries has lobbied to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from designating formaldehyde as a carcinogen. Koch, a cancer survivor himself who was appointed to the National Cancer Institute in 2004 by President George W. Bush, has given extensively to cancer research, while Koch Industries has given to Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., who helped delay the EPA’s efforts to officially link the chemical to cancer in humans.

On the eve of the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, an ongoing joint investigation by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Frontline and has revealed that New Orleans police officers were told they could shoot looters. In the days following Katrina, police shot 11 civilians, although none of the officers implicated or charged in the shootings has invoked the order to shoot as justification for their actions. A one-hour Frontline documentary, “Law and Disorder,” has begun airing on PBS stations nationwide.

With all the talk of the “Reading Revolution” spurred by e-books and other digital devices, the Atlantic took a look back at 10 previous watershed moments in the history of literacy. “Communications legend Harold Innis suggested that the history of culture itself was characterized by a balance between media that persisted in time — think stone inscriptions and heavy parchment books — and those offering the greatest portability across space, like paper, radio, and television,” author Tim Carmody noted. It’s a nice reminder that the ways that humans communicate information have been shaken up and become obsolete before, and somehow we all adjust.

A U.S. Chemical Safety Board depiction of the fire at Xcel Energy’s hydroelectric plant in Georgetown, Colo.

On the heels of challenging the federal Department of Labor over its failure to ban the deadly practice of gas venting, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board this week had more harsh words for labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Yesterday, the CSB called on OSHA to reform a weak and vague standard that the board’s investigators concluded does not protect America’s workers from the potentially deadly dangers of working with flammable materials inside confined spaces.

The CSB recommendation came as part of the board’s final report on the Oct. 2, 2007 fire that killed five painting contractors at Xcel Energy’s Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant outside Denver, Colo.

CSB investigators described the terrible incident this way:

The accident occurred in the water tunnel, or penstock, of the hydroelectric plant, located 45 miles west of Denver. The penstock carries water from an upper reservoir to a lower one, driving power turbines. The painting contractors, from RPI Coating, Inc., were recoating a 1,530-foot steel portion of the 4,300-foot penstock when a flash fire suddenly erupted as the vapor from flammable solvent, used to clean the epoxy spraying wands, ignited, probably from a static spark in the vicinity of the spraying machine. The initial fire quickly grew, igniting additional buckets of the solvent, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), and other combustible epoxy materials stored nearby.

And according to the board’s press release:

The CSB concluded the causes of the accident included (1) a lack of planning and training for hazardous work by Xcel and its contractor, RPI Coating, Inc., (2) Xcel’s selection of RPI despite its h aving the lowest possible safety rating (zero) among competing contractors, and (3) allowing volatile flammable liquids to be introduced into a permit-required confined space without necessary special precautions.

CSB officials released a haunting video that shows what happened:

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More on Bayer and the aldicarb ban

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There’s a great piece out from Marla Cone, editor in chief of Environmental Health News, with much more information and context on the phase-out of the pesticide aldicarb, made at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va.

Among other things, Marla explains that aldicarb was responsible for the worst case of pesticide poisoning in U.S. history:

On the Fourth of July in 1985, three people who had eaten watermelon in Oakland, Calif., rapidly became ill with symptoms that included vomiting, diarrhea, muscle twitches and abnormally slow heart rates. At the same time, people in Oregon were falling ill, too, and tests of watermelons found extremely high levels of aldicarb, which was illegal to use on all melons.

California ordered an immediate ban on watermelon sales, which meant huge quantities had to be destroyed in fields and at stores at the height of the season. How aldicarb got into watermelons remains unknown, but experts suspected that some melon farmers used low levels of it intentionally and illegally and that some also might have flowed off nearby cotton fields.

That summer, a total of 1,350 cases of aldicarb poisoning from watermelon were reported in California, plus another 692 cases in eight other states and Canada, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seventeen people were hospitalized. Six deaths and two stillbirths were reported in people who fell ill, but the pesticide was not listed as the cause of death in coroner reports.

The article provides more history on aldicarb, noting:

Aldicarb was the first of the so-called “dirty dozen” pesticides that Pesticide Action Network targeted in 1985 for worldwide ban. At the time, it was found in bananas and in well water on Long Island, NY.


Years later, in 2007, the EPA concluded that there were “potential human health risks” from drinking-water contamination, as well as risks to birds and other wildlife. But the agency approved its continued use with added precautions, such as increased setbacks between fields and water wells and reduced amounts applied to crops.

Then, this month, the EPA revised its analysis using new toxicity data and determined that current uses meant babies and young children were at risk of being exposed to levels in water and food that exceeded the agency’s level of concern.

Aldicarb residues are found in grapefruit, oranges, orange juice, potatoes, frozen French fries and sweet potatoes. It already has been banned in bananas because of the potential for high exposure in children.

Secret meetings, Aug. 20, 2010

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It’s a good week for open government in West Virginia. Today’s issue of the State Register contains no meetings that violate the public notice provisions of the state’s open meetings law.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

It’s Thursday, which means another opportunity to take note of some other media stories that we’ve admired this week.

What’s it like being a 21st century president? Todd Purdum, Vanity Fair’s national editor, recently spent a day shadowing President Obama, and the resulting article offers a compelling glimpse at the challenges that confront America’s chief executive on a daily basis. “[T]he modern presidency—Barack Obama’s presidency—has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives,” Purdum wrote. “The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the ‘news’ by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth—these forces have made today’s Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place.”

Heard of nanosilver? It can keep your socks from stinking and your baby’s teething ring from hosting bacteria. A Swiss company may be the first to get approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use it on consumer products. But what happens to the particles, as they wash into the environment — whether that’s the water supply or your body? The effects are not so well known. EPA may give the company four years of conditional approval to market and test the results, writes longtime public health
reporter Andrew Schneider

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise has joined with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to encourage states to revamp their approach to digital education, Eduction Week reported. A 50-member council will develop a list of best practices, including online and virtual schools, classroom technology, equity, security and privacy, and digital content.

Bayer to stop making one of its MIC pesticides

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After the initial reports from local elected officials and Bayer CropScience, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally confirmed it: Production of the toxic pesticide aldicarb will end.

Kanawha Valley residents may know this pesticide — under the brand name Temik — as one of the major products of the Bayer plant in Institute, and one of the products Bayer makes using its stockpile of deadly methyl isocynate, or MIC.

In its announcement, EPA explained:

A new risk assessment conducted by EPA based on recently submitted toxicity data indicates that aldicarb no longer meets our rigorous food safety standards and may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to infants and young children.

To address the most significant risks, Bayer has agreed to first end aldicarb use on citrus and potatoes, and will adopt risk mitigation measures for other uses to protect groundwater resources. The company will voluntarily phase out production of aldicarb by December 31, 2014. All remaining aldicarb uses will end no later than August 2018.

Additionally, EPA plans to revoke the tolerances (legal pesticide residues allowed in food) associated with these commodities. EPA initiated this action to ensure that we continue to have the safest food supply possible.

You can read more about the EPA risk study and this deal with Bayer on the agency’s Web site here.

Sustained Outrage readers will recall that Bayer has already promised an 80 percent reduction in its inventory of MIC, and the company says it’s well on the way to meeting that goal. After years of citizen complaints, Bayer acted to reduce the inventory after the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two plant workers and prompted congressional investigators and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to say that incident could have turned out worse than Bhopal.

Part of Bayer’s MIC reduction project already involves Bayer stopping production of MIC for its Institute plant tenant, FMC Corp., to use in making the pesticide carbofuran. EPA has revoked its approval of uses of carbofuran because of health concerns.

Bayer has also said another MIC product stream, the methomyl unit where the 2008 explosion occurred, will not be rebuilt.  Bayer said it would buy methomyl from an outside party to continue making its Larvin brand of the pesticide thiodicarb.

And after production of aldicarb stops, Bayer’s only use of MIC at the Institute plant will apparently be production of carbaryl, a key ingredient in the pesticide Sevin.

Bayer officials aren’t saying yet exactly how all of this will impact jobs at the Institute plant, which employs about 700 people. Also unknown at this point is exactly how the aldicarb phase-out will affect the Institute plant’s need for a continued MIC stockpile.

Stay tuned …

W.Va. lawmakers push more drilling on public land

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Larry Messina at The Associated Press took a look over the weekend at the push by some West Virginia lawmakers to allow more oil and gas drilling on the state’s public lands.

The AP story focused on opportunities for the state to raise revenues by leasing more drilling rights in state forests:

Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, who helped lead the discussion during interims, said gas leases could provide a serious revenue boost for that agency.

With the state budget still weathering the effects of the latest recession, the DNR is projected to spend around $86 million from general revenue taxes, federal funds, lottery proceeds, and such special sources as permits and fees this budget year. The agency also oversees state parks and wildlife-management areas among its various duties.

“They’re here looking for money today, and they have a significant resource in minerals,” said Helmick, D-Pocahontas. “We also want to determine how much wealth is out there.”

Not mentioned in the story, but worth considering, is the ongoing case over drilling proposed for Chief Logan State Park (see here, here and here). State parks and forests are different animals, and by statute are managed differently. But it’s still worth noting the pressure for more resource extraction from the state’s public lands.

The Chief Logan drilling case will be heard by the state Supreme Court on Sept 22, and you can download all of the briefs here.

Well site during active drilling to the Marcelllus Shale formation in Upshur County, West Virginia, in 2008. Photo copyright West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization.

Environmental problems associated with oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale continue to get a lot of attention across the region and in West Virginia.

Just last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency postponed one public meeting on its study of hydraulic fracturing because of worries about the size of the crowd — perhaps 8,000 people or more — expected. EPA is working on plans to reschedule.

In West Virginia, Vicki Smith at The Associated Press did a story about the industry’s complaints regarding a proposal that drillers have to come up with plans and post bonds for repairing any damage they do to small rural roads.

Meanwhile, Pam Kasey of The State Journal reported that the state Division of Highways plans to begin using gas well brine to treat West Virginia highways this winter.  Pam explained:

With regard to salts, the agreement sets maximum concentration levels for chloride and sodium and a minimum level for the combination of those salts and calcium — all related to the brine’s freezing temperature.

With regard to other aspects of natural gas well brine, the memo establishes levels for pH, iron, barium, lead, oil and grease, benzene and ethylbenzene.

For each new source of brine to be used on roadways, DOH has to submit an analysis of these criteria to the DEP.

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