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Bayer to pay $460,000 in DEP deals

Read the settlements online at Sustained Outrage: a Gazette Watchdog blog.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bayer CropScience has agreed to pay nearly $460,000 to resolve a variety of chemical storage and air pollution violations cited by state inspectors at its Institute plant over the last three years, company and government officials said.

Bayer and the state Department of Environmental Protection quietly worked out deals on chemical tank violations last month and finalized two separate air pollution settlements earlier this week, according to documents made public Wednesday.

The largest of the settlements -- nearly $337,000 -- involved citations in which DEP inspectors alleged Bayer had mismanaged safety systems on the underground tank where Bayer stores thousands of pounds of deadly methyl isocyanate, or MIC.

DEP inspectors had cited Bayer after discovering that uncertified contractors had performed testing on the tank and that the tests showed a corrosion control system wasn't working properly.

The problems were cited in September 2009, and DEP officials worked out a settlement with Bayer during private meetings held in March and July of this year, according to agency records.

In the settlement document made public Wednesday, DEP officials said they believed "based on the information provided by Bayer, there were other redundant control measures not required" by law in place and that Bayer "believes that the tank was operating safely without danger to the plant and the community."

Bayer agreed as part of the deal to conduct a detailed review of all of the Institute plant's tanks to insure their safety and compliance with state and federal rules.

In one of two settlements with the DEP Division of Air Quality, Bayer agreed to pay more than $115,000 to resolve a long list of alleged violations including not reporting to regulators more than 500 "actual and potential deviation events" on a variety of plant units, including those involving MIC and deadly phosgene gas.

Bayer also agreed to pay $7,500 in fines to resolve four other air pollution violation notices involving odor problems, excess emissions, and at least one uncontrolled chemical leak.

Institute plant manager Steve Hedrick told reporters during a conference call that, "Our best professional judgment is that neither our employees nor the public were at risk" from any of the problems outlined in the DEP settlements.

Asked if the issues outlined in the settlement paint a picture of a plant that does a good job meeting environmental protection requirements, Hedrick said, "No, and we seek to improve from this point, clearly."

The Institute plant has been controversial for years because of its use and storage of large amounts of MIC, the chemical that leaked and killed thousands of people near a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984. The facility has been under increased scrutiny since an August 2008 explosion that killed two workers and prompted federal investigators to warn of a near-miss disaster for the surrounding community.

In response, Bayer has agreed to reduce its MIC inventory by 80 percent, and Hedrick on Wednesday repeated the company's promise to "accept nothing less than excellence in process safety, occupational safety and environmental performance."

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


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