After Secrecy Claims, Bayer's Own Lapses Revealed as Biggest Threat

April 22, 2009

A Congressional hearing Monday revealed that Bayer Crop Sciences tried to quash a watchdog agency's investigation into Bayer safety lapses that killed two in an August 2008 explosion by claiming it wanted to protect the public from terrorists.

The plant in question was at Institute, WV, which had been notorious for 25 years for using methyl isocyanate, the same chemical that killed thousands in a Bhopal, India, spill in 1984. Bayer was essentially claiming that if the public knew about its use of methyl isocyanate, terrorists might use the information to harm people. The plant itself had terrified many neighbors there for decades.

This need for secrecy, Bayer claimed, justified suppressing most of the findings of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a watchdog agency that investigates the causes of major chemical accidents. At the urging of Bayer lawyers, the CSB delayed for a month a public hearing on its findings while it looked into Bayer's pleas for secrecy.

Bayer's concern over protecting the public, it turned out, did not extend to adequately training plant operators, correcting deficient procedures, upgrading inadequate equipment, refraining from bypassing critical safety interlocks, or preventing employee overwork and fatigue. Those were among the factors the CSB found contributing to the "accident."

The CSB will hold a public hearing on its findings in Institute, WV, April 23, 2009.