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Carper concerned CSB stalling Bayer blast report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper is complaining that the federal Chemical Safety Board is stalling the release of its final report on the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at Bayer CropScience's Institute plant.

Earlier this week, Carper wrote to the board's new chairman, Rafael Moure-Eraso, to question why board members have not issued their final findings or returned to the Kanawha Valley to brief residents on those conclusions.

"I am gravely concerned that we are fast approaching the two-year anniversary of this tragic and avoidable incident," Carper said in his Wednesday letter. "Despite assurances and promises made by the CSB, no opinions, final conclusions, or the promise to meet with the people have yet to take place.

"I am respectfully requesting that the CSB keep their promises," Carper said. "With all due respect, the families and the people in the community deserve better."

Plant worker Barry Withrow was killed in the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and a second employee, Bill Oxley, died about six weeks later in a burn center in Pittsburgh. Thousands of residents between South Charleston and the Putnam County line were advised to take shelter in their homes.

The explosion occurred in a unit where Bayer makes Methomyl, which it then uses to produce Larvin, the company's brand name of the insecticide thiodicarb.

In March, Bayer agreed to pay $143,000 in fines to settle allegations by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration that the company had poorly planned operating procedures, flawed emergency systems and faulty employee training, saying the violations led to a runaway reaction in the Methomyl unit.

A separate Chemical Safety Board probe found that the explosion and fire could have damaged a nearby tank of methyl isocyanate, and caused a disaster that would have rivaled the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India. After those findings were made public, Bayer announced it was cutting its MIC inventory -- long a sticking point with local residents and activists -- by roughly 80 percent.

But board members nearly dropped their investigation and the idea of a public meeting in Institute when Bayer tried to use an obscure Homeland Security rule to keep important information about the August explosion from being released. Pressure from local political leaders, including Carper, convinced the board to go ahead with its work.

But in the last few months, board members -- and especially outgoing chairman John Bresland -- complained repeatedly about their agency's workload after a number of high-profile industrial accidents. Board members only agreed to investigate the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico after practically being ordered to do so by Congress.

By law, the board is required to investigate chemical industry accidents "resulting in a fatality, serious injury or substantial property damage."

Board members said that taking on the BP probe they would have to end some other investigations, but agency spokesman Daniel Horowitz said board members did not anticipate the Bayer explosion being one of those.

Board officials did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment on Carper's letter.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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