CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The new chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board promised Tuesday that his agency hasn't forgotten about its final report on the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.
In a quick visit to the Kanawha Valley, board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso met with local citizen activists, Bayer plant officials and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.
"We wanted to show the flag and to say that we are on the job," Moure-Eraso said during an interview at the close of his trip.
Moure-Eraso planned the visit after Carper blasted the board two weeks ago for repeated delays in the release of a final investigative report on the explosion and fire.
Plant worker Barry Withrow was killed in the August 2008 incident. A second employee, Bill Oxley, died about six weeks later in a burn unit in Pittsburgh. Thousands of residents between South Charleston and the Putnam County line were advised to take shelter in their homes.
The explosion and fire took on an even bigger dimension when a preliminary CSB report -- along with a congressional investigation -- concluded a tank of deadly methyl isocyanate gas could have been damaged, potentially creating a disaster worse than the 1984 MIC leak that killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India.
Moure-Eraso noted that Bhopal was part of the impetus for Congress to create the board as part of its amendments to the federal Clean Air Act in 1990.
"MIC is a world issue," Moure-Eraso said. "In fact, the CSB exists because of the MIC disaster in Bhopal."
Moure-Eraso said the board would release its final report on the Bayer explosion sometime this fall, perhaps as early as September.
But, he said it would not examine in any detail whether Bayer's announced plan to reduce its MIC stockpile by 80 percent would make the Institute facility safe. Some local residents and the group People Concerned About MIC have pointed out even after the inventory reduction, the Institute plant could still maintain 50,000 pounds of MIC on site, more than enough to create a Bhopal-sized leak.
Moure-Eraso said the board would leave examination of those issues up to a separate, congressionally mandated study by the National Academy of Sciences.
"I share [residents'] concerns about MIC," Moure-Eraso said. "But as far as the specifics of what is being done, it would be very hard for me to comment. It's a very complicated matter."
Bayer spokesman Tom Dover issued a prepared statement that said the company gave Moure-Eraso a tour of the plant, but Bayer officials refused to be interviewed for this story.