Federal prosecutors to look into Bayer explosion
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper called Wednesday for a federal criminal investigation of Bayer CropScience's actions related to the August 2008 explosion that killed two plant workers.
In a letter, Carper urged U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller "to take the appropriate and necessary steps to review the conduct of Bayer CropScience relating to the August 28, 2008, explosion."
Miller confirmed that Carper had referred the matter to prosecutors, and said his office plans to look into it.
"We always do if we get a referral," Miller said. "From what I read in the paper, some things don't look right. But it's an area where we need to have an agency do some investigating."
Carper cited a congressional report that he said "demonstrated willful conduct on the part of Bayer CropScience, which included circumventing the safety protocol, directly causing the August 28, 2008, explosion, which resulted in the deaths of two employees."
As part of a House hearing Tuesday, the chairman of the federal Chemical Safety Board testified that Bayer managers knew that operators were shutting off key safety devices on the Methomyl-Larvin unit that blew up in August.
Also, Carper said he believes Bayer violated the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act's requirements for providing state and local officials information about chemical accidents. That law, called EPCRA, contains criminal penalties for willful violations.
Carper noted that Bayer officials repeatedly stonewalled county and local emergency responders the night of the explosion, and then told government agencies and the public there had been no release of hazardous materials.
"During the hearing, the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) testified that despite assurances from Bayer CropScience, there had been a significant release of dangerous chemicals," Carper wrote in his letter to Miller. "Again, in my judgment, it would appear there was a failure to make the required notification in conformity with federal law."
Tom Dover, a Bayer plant spokesman, did not immediately return phone messages or e-mails.