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MIC study meeting set for March 21

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- March 21 is shaping up to be a pretty busy day for Kanawha Valley residents who are concerned about the use of the deadly chemical methyl isocyanate at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.

Already, Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin has scheduled a court hearing to start that morning to consider whether he should grant a longer-term injunction to block Bayer from restarting its MIC production unit.

And on Monday, the National Academy of Sciences announced that it would hold a public event that evening to hear from residents as part of a congressionally mandated study of Bayer's use of MIC.

That meeting is scheduled from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. at the Erickson Alumni Center at West Virginia State University, near the Bayer plant.

Congress budgeted $600,000 for the academy's National Research Council to conduct the study, in response to the August 2008 explosion that killed two Bayer workers and came close to damaging an MIC storage tank.

The explosion did not occur in the MIC unit, but the board said it was dangerously close to a smaller MIC "day tank" and could have created a major disaster.

The "day tank" has since been eliminated, and Bayer has said it plans to phase out all manufacture, use and storage of MIC at the Institute facility as part of a corporate restructuring. Bayer wants to resume MIC production for 18 months.

The case over restarting the MIC unit, which has been down for a reconfiguration project since August 2010, 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 toxic 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.

The National Research Council panel of experts is charged with reviewing current industry practices regarding the use and storage of MIC, including a summary of key lessons learned from Bhopal disaster. The study will use MIC and the Bayer plant a case study for approaches to making chemical plants safer by, among other things, the use of inherently safer technologies.

The study is due to be completed by Sept. 1.

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


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