Sustained Outrage

Breaking news: Bayer to stop using MIC

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We’ve got an early version of our story online now about the latest moves at the Bayer CropScience plant out in Institute. They bottom line:

Bayer CropScience announced this afternoon that it will stop making, storing and using the deadly chemical methyl isocyanate at its Institute plant as part of a corporate restructuring that will also cost the plant 220 jobs.

This comes after Bayer’s announcement in August 2009 that it would cut its MIC inventory by 80 percent, but according to company officials has far more to do with the August agreement between Bayer and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the phase-out of the extremely toxic pesticide aldicarb.

The changes at Institute are part of a corporate shift that also involves the closing of Bayer’s plant in Woodbine, Ga., which makes similar products. That facility employs 80 people.

Bayer’s formal press release explained things this way:

“The decision was based on a number of factors, with both strategic and economic considerations. It is fully in line with our global strategy to focus on delivering innovative solutions to modern agriculture and replacing older compounds in our portfolio, including WHO Class I products”, said Achim Noack, Member of the Board of Management of Bayer CropScience.

In recent years, the carbamate family has been largely substituted by newer products, prompting a review of the company’s carbamates business strategy. Following the August 2010 agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out Temik® brand insecticide/nematicide, the production of certain carbamates is no longer economically viable for Bayer CropScience.

“Temik® has been the cornerstone of our carbamate manufacturing strategy,” said Chris Evans, Senior Vice President of Industrial Operations in North America for Bayer CropScience. “The decisions to exit Temik® and to discontinue our Methomyl and Carbofuran production, made it impossible to maintain competitive operations at parts of our Institute site and at the formulation unit at Woodbine.”

State and local officials are understandably focused on the loss of 220 good-paying jobs in the Kanawha Valley. Bayer officials did not announce an exact time-line for this, but said the jobs would gone within “several years.”

And undoubtedly, some folks will blame the job loss on environmental regulations, or perhaps more directly on area residents who have for years worried and complained about the stockpile of the same chemical that killed thousands of people in 1984 in Bhopal, India.

But Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper pointed out that Bayer agreed to the EPA phase-out of aldicarb, and said the better course of action now is to work with Bayer to find other tenants and job opportunities for the soon-to-be-vacant space in the Institute plant:

There is so much talk about clean coal and about developing byproducts of natural gas. The job of all of us should be to make appropriate use of that plant. We have to save as many jobs as we can.