Originally, the study was to focus on whether Bayer could reduce or eliminate its huge stockpile of MIC, a longtime concern for plant neighbors. But Bayer announced plans to cut its inventory and then, in March 2011, to eliminate MIC from the plant entirely. That decision was prompted by a shift in corporate product lines, and hastened the elimination of more than 200 jobs.
In response to Bayer's moves, the study was somewhat reworked, with a focus on Bayer as an example of what chemical plants across the country could or should do to reduce hazards to their neighbors and workers.
A panel of engineers, safety experts and economists examined ways in which the chemical industry does -- and doesn't -- consider whether it can use "inherently safer processes," in making its products. Generally, inherently safer processes involve using fewer toxic materials or eliminating altogether the use of the most dangerous chemicals.
The panel said using inherently safer processes is more complicated than it might seem, because eliminating one dangerous ingredient might necessitate using two others, or starting and stopping units more frequently, or transporting hazardous materials longer distances.
At Bayer, for example, the panel noted that one option for eliminating the plant's MIC stockpile would have been to make the chemical as it was needed, rather than in large batches that would be drawn on over time. But doing that, the report said, would have meant starting and stopping units more frequently, which creates a different set of risks, especially for workers.
The panel noted that Bayer made some strides over the years in reducing its MIC inventory and in adding safety features to its MIC-related units. But, the panel report said, the notion of switching away from a dangerous chemical like MIC altogether is something that often goes against the traditional way companies make decisions.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.