Bayer CropScience LP has agreed to a $5.6 million settlement involving the fatal 2008 explosion at its West Virginia pesticide manufacturing facility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) made the announced the settlement last month. The EPA and DOJ said in a joint statement that the settlement resolves Bayer’s alleged violations of federal chemical accident prevention laws at the facility in Institute, W. Va., the site of the explosion that killed two workers and injured eight others.
Under the settlement, Bayer will pay $4.23 million to improve emergency preparedness and response efforts at the facility and also to protect the Kanawha River. Bayer will also pay a $975,000 penalty and $452,000 aimed at improving safety at chemical storage facilities nationwide. EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles had this to say in the statement:
The tragic accident at the Bayer CropScience facility in West Virginia underscores the need for hazardous chemicals to be stored and handled in accordance with the law to protect worker health and the environment. This settlement will establish important safeguards at its facilities across the country and improve emergency response capabilities in the Institute, West Virginia, community.
Two workers were killed in 2008 and several others injured when a runaway chemical reaction inside a residue treater pressure vessel triggered an explosion, sending the vessel into a methomyl pesticide manufacturing unit during a restart at the Institute plant. In its complaint, the DOJ noted Bayer’s alleged failure to comply with its risk management plan at the facility and claimed that workers were inadequately trained to operate a digital control system that had been recently installed. Both were said to be factors and played a role in the blast. The EPA and DOJ concluded in the statement:
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 agencies said that the settlement aims to prevent future chemical releases at Bayer’s facilities, including sites in Texas, Missouri and Michigan, by bolstering inspections to find possible safety issues. Bayer is required to hold emergency response exercises with local responders at the West Virginia site. The U.S. is represented by John C. Cruden, Daniel S. Smith and Gary L. Call of the Department of Justice and Dean B. Ziegel of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement.
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