Processing Magazine

WV plant to cut storage of deadly chemical

August 26, 2009
Bayer CropScience’s West Virginia plant will reduce its storage of a toxic chemical that was in danger of being released in a deadly explosion nearly a year ago, according to the Associated Press. The company will cut storage of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, by 80 percent and build an underground storage tank to hold it within the next year. The changes are part of a $25 million safety upgrade at its Institute plant, which is the only U.S. site that produces and stores large amounts of MIC. An aboveground storage tank with the capacity to hold 40,000 pounds of the chemical was near the site of a blast that killed two plant employees last year. The blast didn''t cause the release of any MIC, but it raised concerns about what could happen if a future mishap were to damage the storage tank. A wire-rope protective mesh designed to protect the tank surrounded the MIC tank. But the force of the nearby explosion twisted steel beams, broke pipes and sent a piece of equipment 50 feet into the air, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said in a preliminary report. The deadly consequences of MIC exposure were demonstrated in a disaster that killed thousands in India 25 years ago. A congressional investigation of the West Virginia blast said if the explosion had ruptured the MIC tank, it "could have eclipsed" the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed 2,000 and harmed thousands more. The India plant was operated by Union Carbide, which once owned the Institute plant. The Institute plant is located about 12 miles from Charleston in the heavily populated Kanawha River Valley. Nearby residents and local officials have expressed concern about the use and storage of MIC at the plant for years and opposition increased after last August''s explosion. MIC is used in the manufacture of insecticides at four different units at the sprawling 465-acre plant. One unit, the methomyl unit, was damaged in the explosion. The company will reduce its need for MIC because it will not rebuild the methomyl unit. Methomyl will be produced by a third party and shipped to the plant for final production.