The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $5.6 million settlement with Bayer CropScience LP to resolve violations of federal chemical accident prevention laws at its facility in Institute, W.Va. where an explosion killed two people in 2008. Under the settlement, Bayer CropScience committed to spending approximately $452,000 on a series of measures to improve safety at chemical storage facilities across the United States and $4.23 million to improve emergency preparedness and response in Institute and protect the Kanawha River. Bayer CropScience will also pay a $975,000 penalty.
“The multiple safety failures that existed at this facility that led to a loss of life, demonstrates why safeguards are necessary to protect people’s health and the environment,” said EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “This settlement will incorporate worker safety training, as well as emergency preparedness and response capabilities at this plant and a number of other Bayer facilities, ensuring the protection of workers, the public and the environment from accidental chemical releases that are preventable.”
Under the settlement, Bayer CropScience will take a series of steps to prevent future chemical releases at its facilities in West Virginia, Texas, Missouri and Michigan by improving inspections to identify potential safety issues and standardize facility safety operating procedures. At the facility in Institute, the company will conduct emergency response exercises with local responders and ensure proper certification of facility environmental management systems. Bayer must complete the majority of these actions within three years.
The nearly $4.23 million for environmental projects will benefit the Institute community by improving mobile communications for local first responders, providing emergency response equipment and training for local fire and police departments, shelter-in-place training and hazardous waste collections at local public schools and installing equipment to prevent pollution from water used in Bayer CropScience’s manufacturing process from reaching the Kanawha River. Local emergency responders may start receiving equipment as early as December 2015.
The complaint details numerous problems that arose at the pesticide manufacturing facility where the company did not comply with its risk management plan designed to prevent accidental releases. In 2008, a new digital control system was installed, but safety interlock associated with the control system was not properly engaged at startup. Employees were not fully trained to understand or operate the system and failed to follow procedures for sampling, temperature control and flow safeguards. The result was an uncontrollable buildup in a treatment unit causing a chemical reaction resulting in the explosion, fire and loss of life. During the incident, the company delayed emergency officials trying to access the plant, and failed to provide adequate information to 911 operators.
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.