Hearing set for Thursday on MIC lawsuit

February 9, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

Word just in that U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin has scheduled a hearing for  tomorrow (Thursday) to consider whether Bayer CropScience should be temporarily blocked from restarting the methyl isocyanate unit at its Institute plant.

The hearing is set for 2 p.m. in U.S. District Court here in Charleston.

If you missed it, we had a story on today’s Gazette about the case, and posted a copy of the lawsuit here. As we reported:

Among other things, the suit asks for a court order to block Bayer from resuming production of MIC until comprehensive plant inspections are conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Institute plant’s stockpile of MIC — for years the plant stored a quarter-million pounds of the chemical on site — has been a focus of concern for many valley residents since December 1984, when a leak of the chemical killed thousands of people near a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.

Bayer is in the process of restarting the MIC unit after a significant modification project, but plans to operate it for only about 18 months before it stops making, using or storing the chemical at its Institute plant.

Photo by Tom Hindman, Charleston Daily Mail, via The Associated Press

Bayer lawyers have not yet filed any papers responding to the lawsuit, but plant spokesman Tom Dover issued this follow-up statement today:

Bayer CropScience has received a copy of the court filings, and they are under review. In the meantime, it is important that the community know about the extensive efforts we have implemented to ensure the safe start up and operation of the new production unit. First and foremost, we’ve invested more than $25 million in new production, safety and communications equipment. We have completed our planned reduction of methyl isocyanate storage by 80 percent and have eliminated all above-ground storage. The employees responsible for this operation have undergone extensive process and safety training associated with these operations. And we have established several new safety and communications processes, working closely with Metro 911, the KPEPC, and others. All of these efforts — as well as numerous process and safety reviews along the way, including one recently completed by third-party experts — have led to our assurance of a safe operation. We are fully dedicated to a safe startup of these operations and remain confident that we will meet our own high expectations, as well as those of our neighbors and community.

I asked Dover if I could interview someone from the plant who is overseeing the restart of the unit, or if the company would make public this “third party” safety review referred to in his statement. I haven’t heard back yet…


I still haven’t heard back from Tom Dover on my request, but last evening Bayer lawyers filed this legal brief responding to the brief the residents’ lawyer filed in support of their motion for a Temporary Restraining Order.

Of course, the lawsuit accuses Bayer not only of  “chronically reckless operation” of the plant, but also of “admitted dishonesty in public communications” with residents of the Kanawha Valley.”

Readers may recall that Bayer CEO William Buckner testified before a congressional committee that his company tried to use homeland security regulations to avoid “negative publicity” about the August 2008 explosion that killed two plant workers:

There were, of course, some business reasons that also motivated our desire for confidentiality. These included a desire to limit negative publicity generally about the company or the Institute facility, to avoid public pressure to reduce the volume of MIC that is produced and stored at Institute by changing to alternative technologies, or even calls by some in our community to eliminate MIC production entirely.

Also, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has noted how Bayer stonewalled local emergency responders seeking information about the incident and misled local residents when company officials insisted that no dangerous chemicals were released, when in fact key monitors at the plant weren’t working the night of the incident.

CSB investigators, of course, found that the fatal explosion never had to happen, if Bayer had operated its plant properly. Here’s the agency’s video of what happened:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/lbIz3vWeqcU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

8 Responses to “Hearing set for Thursday on MIC lawsuit”

  1. OneSaneVoice says:

    You won’t be happy until the only thing we can pump is water will you?

  2. dangerousdaneerfan says:

    Wave bye bye to 200+ Kanawha Valley jobs that pay $60K+/year. You must be very proud Mr Ward.

  3. chemop says:

    Mr. Ward, the explosion you speak of and the re-start of the MIC Unit are two entirely different animals. You know, as well as I do, that the August 28, 2008 explosion was in the Larvin Unit, NOT the MIC Unit. This is just another example of your fear-mongering, headling grabbing style of journalism. Do your job: report the facts, then let your readers form their own opinions. One again, yellow journalism at its finest.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    Well, the plaintiffs in the case don’t think they are two entirely different animals.

    Indeed, the August 28, 2008, explosion occurred in the methomyl-Larvin unit, within 75 feet of the MIC day tank. Federal investigators said this could have been a disaster bigger than Bhopal.

    The MIC production unit is on the other side of the plant, but the lawsuit alleges that the same safety violations by Bayer during the startup of that MIC unit could occur as occurred during the startup of the methomyl-Larvin unit back in 2008.


  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    As Bayer said in its announcement last month, the decision to stop making, using or storing MIC at its Institute plant was part of a corporate restructuring, and not the result of newspaper coverage about the potential dangers of the MIC unit.


  6. chemop says:

    Mr. Ward,

    Do you, or anyone else, for that matter, honestly think Bayer management would allow those same mistakes to occur again? C’mon, be realistic.

    Aslo, please take into account that there is a new plant manager in place at Bayer’s Institute site. I hardly think he wants a repeat performance on his watch. My guess is this one will go by the books, or it won’t go at all.

  7. WVTeach says:

    Mr. Ward,

    Who are the plaintiffs? Not necessarily their names but who are they in terms of professional background that makes what they think about the units have any merit whatsoever?

    Engineers, chemists and chemical operators are trained to analyze these technical operations…other opinions are just that…and it seems in this case invalid.

    Kent Carper could have laid many of these fears to rest had he not so arrogantly refused to sign that he wouldn’t reveal trade secrets that he would have been privy to…totally irresponsible of a person in his position.

  8. Thomas Dearien says:

    I’m waiting for the announcement that Bayer is going to pull all operations from West Virginia. Dow, DuPont and the other smaller operations will most definately follow behind them. Kanawha County officials will not be satisfied until they have strangled every industry in the Kanawha Valley to death. Yes, Bayer, and other companies, all need to be responsible when dealing with hazards related to their industries. The county and state officials also need to be responsible, and held accountable for any actions that destroy industry and jobs in our area. I think officials in Kanawha County will not be satisfied until everyone in the county is working for minumum wage at Wal-Mart.

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