INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- When Institute community members asked "What next?" during Saturday's public briefing about a report on the use and storage of a deadly chemical at Bayer CropScience, no one could give them definitive answers.
The report about methyl isocyanate, or MIC, at the Institute plant, which was written by experts from The National Academy of Sciences, moves to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for review. The committee that wrote it dissolves.
"What happens next will depend on the political process," committee member Michael Elliott said.
Several people who helped write the report were present to take questions during the morning's briefing at West Virginia State University. The report, which was congressionally mandated, was released in May and said the chemical industry needs clearer standards for identifying safe practices. Rather than discussing the report's findings, however, the dozen community members present were more interested in expressing their disillusionment with Bayer.
The report follows a string of events that began in 2008, when there was an explosion at the plant in Institute that killed two employees, started a fire and damaged nearby structures. The incident and the resulting U.S. Chemical Safety Board inspection, drew renewed attention to the fact that the Institute facility housed of large amounts of MIC.
After a congressional mandate, the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council enlisted experts to study the use and storage of MIC at the Institute plant and detail other options for alternative modes of producing the chemical.
But in January 2011, Bayer announced it would stop making, using and storing MIC at its Institute plant because of corporate restructuring. And, in March 2011, the company said it wouldn't resume the production of MIC at the Institute facility.
Consequently, the academy's study shifted focus to use Bayer as an example for how chemical plants can reduce risks to their employees and communities.
The report specifically talked about "inherently safer processes," or tactics the chemical industry can employ to minimize or eliminate the use of dangerous substances.
Elsa Reichmanis, committee chairwoman, said Bayer CropScience did take some steps to reduce risks from MIC, but the committee didn't find any documentation or hear anything indicating Bayer tried to systematically incorporate inherently safer processes.
The report also concluded that the chemical industry doesn't have a consistent view of what constitutes inherently safe practices. Consequently, the committee members recommended that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board or another group come up with guidelines to help chemical plants decide which alternative processing options they should use.
Reichmanis finished her brief overview of the report, and the meeting moved to the public comments and questions portion. As those in attendance hollered over the discussion's moderator, some committee members also became visibly frustrated, rolling their eyes and suppressing smirks.
Reichmanis said after the meeting that the committee members had expected to hear from people who had strong opinions, but they didn't anticipate so much discussion.
Donna Willis was the first person to voice anger during the briefing, citing a lack of governmental oversight, the need for legislation, and the hazards chemicals pose to people in the plant's surrounding areas.