Read the judge's order.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge on Thursday ordered Bayer CropScience not to resume production of the deadly pesticide ingredient methyl isocyanate at its chemical plant in Institute.
Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin cited a history of safety violations at the plant and the "catastrophic dangers presented by the production" of the chemical, known as MIC.
The judge said his 14-day restraining order was warranted because a group of residents who sued Bayer were likely to win the case on its merits and also were "likely to suffer irreparable harm" without relief from the court. Goodwin also cited Bayer's "alleged misrepresentations to the public" about prior incidents at the plant.
"This short-term temporary restraining order is in the public interest," Goodwin said. The judge ruled from the bench at the end of a nearly 90-minute hearing, and later issued a three-page written order. He set a hearing for Feb. 25 to consider the residents' expected request for a lengthier court injunction.
The judge's ruling is the latest chapter in a 25-year effort by some Kanawha Valley residents to rid the community of the Institute plant's huge stockpile of MIC. Community activists have focused their concerns on MIC since December 1984, when a leak of the chemical killed thousands of people near a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.
"We're happy that the judge has entered the order that he has," said William V. DePaulo, lawyer for Maya Nye and 15 other residents named as plaintiffs in the case.
Bayer spokesman Tom Dover said company officials were disappointed with Goodwin's decision and would "review our options" in response to the ruling.
Last month, Bayer announced it was going to stop making, using and storing MIC at the Institute plant as part of a corporate restructuring and a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop selling the pesticide aldicarb, which MIC is used to make.
Bayer had already spent more than $25 million on a project to reduce its MIC inventory by 80 percent. The unit has been off-line and there's been no MIC on site since that project began in August. In last month's announcement, Bayer said it would restart the unit and make aldicarb for another 18 months before shutting down production -- and mothballing the MIC unit -- in mid-2012. The first new MIC was scheduled to be produced in a week, Bayer said Thursday.
On Tuesday, 16 area residents filed suit in federal court to stop Bayer from restarting MIC production, armed with a U.S. Chemical Safety Board report that blamed the company's poor safety practices for an August 2008 explosion and fire that killed 2 workers.
That 2008 explosion occurred in the plant's Methomyl-Larvin pesticide production unit, which is on the opposite end of the plant from the MIC production unit. But CSB investigators found the explosion could have damaged an MIC storage tank located just 75 feet away from blast, and caused a disastrous MIC release that could have rivaled Bhopal.
In court filings, DePaulo gave Goodwin a long list of other previous accidents a the facility, as well as details of Bayer's own projections that a major MIC accident could impact 300,000 people living within a 25-mile zone around the plant.