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Bayer pesticide phased out for 'unacceptable' risks

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A pesticide that is a major product of Bayer CropScience's Institute plant will be phased out because it "may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to infants and young children," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed Tuesday.

EPA said Bayer had agreed to end production of the pesticide aldicarb by Dec. 31, 2014, following completion of a new agency study that found kids could be exposed to up to eight times the level of the chemical considered safe.

Bayer negotiated the phase-out plan with EPA after working for 20 years to keep its Temik brand of aldicarb on the market. Company press releases continued to maintain Tuesday that the phase-out does not mean aldicarb poses a "food safety concern" or "an actual risk."

"It's not surprising that Bayer would say there is no concern, since they've been fighting since 1990 to try to keep this thing on the market," said Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C. "This has been two decades in the making."

The Institute plant has produced aldicarb for years, dating back to the Union Carbide days. The technology was sold to Rhone-Poulenc, then to Aventis, and then to Bayer.

Bayer officials said that they did not yet know what impact the phase-out action would have on operations and employment at the roughly 700-worker Institute facility.

Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, said the company told local officials job losses aren't inevitable and will depend on the plant's ability to juggle workers among various products.

"Bayer CropScience is committed to bringing new innovation solutions from seed to harvest to growers to ensure we continue to have a safe, abundant and affordable food supply," said Bayer CropScience CEO Bill Buckner.

Aldicarb is a carbamate pesticide, meaning it is derived from carbamic acid. Also important to aldicarb's production is methyl isocyanate, or MIC, the chemical building block that killed thousands of people in a 1984 leak from a Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.

Under the deal with EPA, Bayer can continue to use aldicarb on potatoes and citrus crops until Dec. 31, 2011. All production of the chemical must end by Dec. 31, 2014, and all distribution two years after that.

During the phase-out, the pesticide can continue to be used on cotton, dry beans, peanuts, soybeans, sugar beets and sweet potatoes.

"Although the company does not fully agree with this risk assessment approach, Bayer CropScience respects the oversight authority of the EPA and is cooperating with them," the company said in a prepared statement.

Exposure to aldicarb can cause weakness, blurred vision, headaches and nausea. Very high doses can paralyze the respiratory system and be fatal to humans. EPA has previously said that aldicarb is one of the most acutely toxic pesticides registered in the U.S.

In the 1980s, aldicarb poisoning was blamed for the illnesses of banana workers in Costa Rica and consumers of tainted watermelons in Oregon and California. In 1990, the use of aldicarb on potatoes was briefly suspended because of health concerns until Bayer submitted new data arguing that a more controlled application would be safe. Then, in 2003, the European Union banned many uses of aldicarb, citing safety concerns.

Already, the Bayer plant in Institute was under pressure following the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers and prompted new concerns about the facility's huge stockpile of MIC. Bayer has promised to reduce that inventory by 80 percent, at least in part by eliminating two of the four uses of MIC at the plant. When aldicarb production ends, the only use for MIC at Institute will be in making carbaryl, a key ingredient in the pesticide Sevin.

Bayer spokesman Jack Boyne said it is not clear what impact the aldicarb decision will have on the plant's production, use and storage of MIC. "We'll have to take a look at that," Boyne said.

Maya Nye, a spokeswoman for the group People Concerned About MIC, said Tuesday, "Bayer better start looking at how they're going to operate in an economy that holds corporations accountable for paying the true costs of production, because that's the way the world is moving."

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


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