Secrecy alleged in W.Va. chemical blast
WASHINGTON - Bayer CropScience withheld information from emergency responders after a deadly explosion at a West Virginia chemical plant last summer, and has since used a terrorism-related law to keep some documents secret, a congressional committee reported yesterday.
The staff report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee said its investigation revealed that Bayer CropScience "engaged in a campaign of secrecy by withholding critical information from local, county, and state emergency responders . . . and by providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public." The Aug. 28 explosion and fire at its plant in Institute, W.Va., killed two people.
The blast came close to compromising a tank holding methyl isocyanate, or MIC, the report said. The same chemical was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Bhopal, India, when it leaked from a Union Carbide plant in 1984.
Had a projectile from last summer's explosion hit that tank, the consequences "could have eclipsed" the 1984 disaster, according to the report, which was presented at an investigative subcommittee hearing.
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said that 25 years after Bhopal, "I think it's finally time to ask whether it makes sense to allow Bayer to continue producing and storing such massive amounts" of the toxic chemical.
William Buckner, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience, told the subcommittee the company regrets "that the community did not promptly receive assurance that they were not in danger."
"Our initial communication with Metro 911, while well-intentioned, inadvertently created confusion and concern," he said, adding, "we will do better."