CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A national lobbying group for the chemical industry wants a federal judge in West Virginia to tread lightly in a lawsuit over a deadly chemical stored at a Bayer CropScience plant, arguing that his rulings could have nationwide implications.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Monday, the American Chemistry Council urges U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin not to declare storage tanks of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, a public nuisance as some residents are demanding.
Because West Virginia is a major producer of raw chemicals for the rest of the industry, it says, such a ruling could cause widespread economic harm.
MIC is the same chemical that killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India, in an accidental leak in 1984. Bayer CropScience's Institute facility is the only one in the nation that still stores large volumes of it.
Residents who live near the plant say in their lawsuit that MIC poses "an imminent risk of a catastrophic industrial disaster" and should be declared a nuisance, but the industry claims that would be an inappropriate expansion of state law.
William DePaulo, an attorney for the residents, disagreed Tuesday with the industry group, saying the law in West Virginia supports the principle of anticipatory nuisance in virtually the same language as his lawsuit.
"There is no departure from the law of West Virginia," he said in an e-mail. "It is simply being applied to a novel set of facts. The law is the same."
Bayer wants to restart an MIC unit that has been shut down for renovations, but that's on hold while Goodwin hears the case and considers expert testimony that was to be submitted this week. The next hearing is set for March 21.
The council argues that residents worried about an MIC leak have no evidence to show they've been harmed by having the chemical in their community or that fear of a spill interferes with their quality of life. Even if they could, the council says, West Virginia's Supreme Court has previously ruled that even a "well-founded fear" is insufficient grounds for a nuisance label.