Both products are part of the carbamate family of pesticides, named because they are made in part with carbamic acid, and use MIC as a key ingredient. In a news release, Bayer said that such products have "in recent years ... been largely substituted by newer products," prompting a review by the company of its carbamates business.
Then, in August 2010, Bayer negotiated a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to phase out aldicarb by Dec. 31, 2014. EPA had sought the deal because of agency research that found kids could be exposed to up to eight times the level of the chemical considered safe. Aldicarb had been under EPA scrutiny for years, following the poisoning of banana workers in Costa Rica and consumers of tainted watermelons in Oregon and California in the 1980s.
At the time of the EPA deal, Bayer officials said they would close an aldicarb-Temik formulation plant in Woodbine, Ga., but that they didn't yet know what impact it would have on the Institute plant.
But the facility and the products it makes with MIC were already under a variety of pressures.
Following a May 2009 ban on the use of the pesticide carbofuran in food, FMC Corp. in August 2010 stopped producing that material at the Institute site. Leasing plant space at Institute, FMC made carbofuran in part with MIC that it purchased from Bayer.
And Bayer had already announced in August 2009 that it would reduce its MIC inventory by 80 percent, in part by not rebuilding its methomyl-Larvin pesticide unit where the 2008 explosion occurred. A preliminary report from the CSB found that the explosion could have damaged a nearby tank of MIC in the methomyl-Larvin unit, causing a disaster that would have rivaled Bhopal.
"The decisions to exit Temik and to discontinue our methomyl and carbofuran production made it impossible to maintain competitive operations at parts of our Institute site and at the formulation unit at Woodbine," said Chris Evans, senior vice president of Bayer's North American industrial operations.
Maya Nye, spokewoman for the group People Concerned About MIC, said she was still learning details of exactly what Bayer had announced, but was concerned it would be depicted as a case of environmental and public safety protections costing jobs.
"Instead of taking the opportunity to lead the industry in developing safer technologies, it has chosen to take a backseat to its competitors while taking the people of this valley as economic hostages," Nye said.
At the Bayer press conference, Evans and Hedrick both referred to a more than 10-year-old company pledge to move away from products listed as "Class I" pesticides by the World Health Organization, but neither would explain why Bayer made that pledge.
In a corporate "Sustainable Development Report" posted on its Web site, Bayer says the company decided in 1995 to "gradually replace" such products, which WHO lists as "extremely hazardous.
"Bayer CropScience has undertaken to continuously optimize the responsible use of its products," the company report says. "These principles cover the entire life-cycle of a product from development to use and beyond."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.