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Chemical board seeks input on MIC study plan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board wants to know what the public thinks about its plan for a National Academy of Sciences study of the use of deadly methyl isocyanate at Bayer CropScience's Institute plant.

Board officials are accepting public comments on their study plan through May 10. Details of the plan were published in Friday's Federal Register and are available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-9422.htm.

The chemical board is coordinating the study under a congressional mandate approved by lawmakers following the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two Institute plant workers.

Bayer employee Barry Withrow was killed in the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion; Bayer employee Bill Oxley died about six weeks later in a burn center in Pittsburgh. Thousands of residents between South Charleston and the Putnam County line were advised to take shelter in their homes.

The explosion occurred in a unit where Bayer makes methomyl, which it then uses to produce Larvin, the company's brand name of the insecticide thiodicarb.

A separate investigation by the Chemical Safety Board found the explosion and fire could have damaged a nearby tank of MIC, and caused a disaster that would have rivaled the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India.

After those findings were made public, Bayer announced it was cutting its MIC inventory -- long a sticking point with local residents and activists -- by roughly 80 percent. After the changes, Bayer hopes to keep its daily maximum MIC inventory below 50,000 pounds -- still far more than any other chemical plant in the nation.

The National Academy study will include examination of "the feasibility of implementing alternative chemicals or processes" and "an examination of the cost of alternatives" at the Bayer facility.

The study is expected to take about a year.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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