Lawmakers seek review of toxic chemical by Bayer CropScience at West Virginia plant

Review sought of toxic chemical used by Bayer

WASHINGTON — Federal investigators should find ways for Bayer CropScience to stop or reduce the use of a toxic chemical that was in danger of being released in last year’s deadly explosion in West Virginia, four key lawmakers urged Monday.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller , D-W.Va., who chair the respective House and Senate commerce committees, said in a letter to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that they were concerned about the dangers posed by the continued use of methyl isocyanate, or MIC. The same chemical was responsible for the deaths of thousands in Bhopal, India, when it leaked from a former Union Carbide plant in 1984.

The Aug. 28 explosion and fire at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va., killed two people. A congressional investigation last month found that had the explosion damaged the MIC tank, the consequences “could have eclipsed” the 1984 disaster.

“We believe it is past time to consider whether Bayer’s continued use and storage of MIC can be justified in light of the health and safety risks it presents to the surrounding community,” Waxman and Rockefeller wrote Monday to Chemical Safety Board Chairman John Bresland. The letter was also signed by Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigative subcommittee, and Rep. Edward J. Markey, chairman of the committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

They asked the safety board to investigate options for Bayer CropScience to reduce or eliminate the use of MIC by switching to alternative chemicals or processes; assess whether the company has adequately examined doing so; and come up with recommendations for the company and regulators to reduce the dangers of storing the chemical.

In a telephone interview, Bresland said that he agreed with the key concepts in the letter, and in fact had already asked Bayer CropScience for studies it had done on alternatives. The board received thousands of pages of documents and is reviewing them, he said.

“We’ll evaluate the documents they send to us, and we’ll decide where do we go from there after that evaluation,” he said. “It’s certainly possible that we would have additional studies we’d want done.”

In a statement, Bayer CropScience spokesman Bryan Iams said that the company is reviewing the letter, and will continue to cooperate with Congress and the safety board.

A report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, presented at a hearing last month, found that Bayer CropScience withheld information from emergency responders after the explosion and has since used a terrorism-related law to keep some documents secret. The report said that it was the only U.S. site that produces and stores large amounts of MIC.

Two days later, the Chemical Safety Board issued a preliminary report which said that safety lapses at the plant caused the blast.

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