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Public meeting Jan. 20 on fatal Bayer blast report

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has scheduled a public meeting for Jan. 20 to release its final report on the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.

CSB officials announced Monday the meeting would start at 6:30 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room of the Wilson Building at West Virginia State University in Institute. The meeting is free and open to the public, but the board encouraged attendees to pre-register by e-mailing their names and affiliations to publicmeeting@csb.gov by Jan. 15.

"At the meeting, the CSB investigative team will present its findings on the root causes of the accident to the five CSB board members and the public," the board said in a news release. "The board will ask questions of the team in front of the audience and will then invite comments from members of the public."

Also, a panel of "outside witnesses" -- whose names have not yet been announced -- will be invited to speak on a number of issues related to the board's findings and recommendations, the board said.

Board members will then vote on the report and its recommendations.

Board investigators have said that they expect to recommend creation of new Kanawha Valley chemical safety regulations similar to those adopted in Contra Costa County, Calif. The rules would aim to prevent chemical leaks and other accidents by involving industry and the community in such efforts, requiring industry to submit safety plans, and conducting audits of those plans and inspections of area plants.

Plant worker Barry Withrow was killed in the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and a second 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 made Methomyl, which it used to produce Larvin, the company's brand name of the insecticide thiodicard.

A preliminary report from the CSB found that the explosion and fire could have damaged a nearby tank of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, and caused a disaster that would have rivaled the 1985 Bhopal disaster in India. After those findings were made public, Bayer announced it was cutting its inventory of MIC -- long a sticking point with local residents and activists -- by roughly 80 percent.

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


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