CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha Valley residents want Bayer CropScience to turn over any company studies that examined the risks and potential consequences of a major release of the deadly chemical methyl isocyanate from its Institute plant.
A lawyer for 16 residents who won a temporary court order blocking Bayer from resuming MIC production asked for the studies during a Friday morning hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Stanley.
William DePaulo, a lawyer for Maya Nye and other residents, said he wants the studies to use as evidence as he pursues a longer-term court order to block Bayer from resuming production of MIC, a pesticide ingredient, at the sprawling Institute facility.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin issued a 14-day temporary restraining order that blocks Bayer from restarting the unit. Now, Stanley is overseeing both sides as they exchange possible evidence, preparing for a Feb. 25 hearing where the residents will seek that longer-term injunction.
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 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.
During Friday morning's hearing, DePaulo told Stanley it's important for the court to learn what Bayer's own experts think the chances -- and the possible results -- of a major MIC incident would be.
"The reality is that someone somewhere inside Bayer would have done such calculations," DePaulo said, noting the studies might have been needed for insurance policies or in putting together financial reports.
DePaulo already included some rough information about worst-case accident projections that Bayer filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board also commissioned computer modeling to predict the results of an MIC leak at the plant, but board investigators did not include that information in their final report released last month.
CSB officials investigated an August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers in the Bayer plant's Methomyl-Larvin pesticide unit.
That unit 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 from the blast and caused a disastrous MIC release that could have rivaled Bhopal.
In hearings on Thursday and Friday, Bayer lawyers repeated the company's earlier contention that MIC was "not involved" in the August 2008 incident.