Bayer, the company that makes plain old Aspirin, is storing 200,000 pounds ofof methyl isocyanate or MIC in a certain country – that’s the same deadly chemical that killed thousands of innocent people in Bhopal India(link) and left tens of thousands with severe illness. Not a chemical to handle lightly.
So in the last few years when this Bayer facility has had serious chemical spills that killed workers and gassed neighbors in violation of the laws and regulations of this as yet unnamed country(links to news reports), what do you think happened?
Nothing – other than Bayer saying they would submit to “voluntary monitoring.” No crackdown by regulators. No fines issued. No guarantee that the original problems that caused the spill were fixed.
Where on God’s Green Earth is this going on you say? Must be some corrupt province in Nigeria or India or developing country that doesn’t know better, right?
It’s in the quaint town of Institute, West Virginia – in the good old USA – where in August 2008 an explosion and fire killed two plants workers and caused thousands of residents to flee.
Despite the deaths, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection does not monitor for this chemical and isn’t planning to in the wake of all this mess. So I guess Bayer can just keep on spillin and killin with no checks and balances.
In the fall of 2009, Bayer announced it was going to reduce its quarter-million-pound MIC stockpile by about 80 percent – a apparent huge victory for Institute plant critics, and a concession Bayer made only under intense pressure from the public, West Virginia political leaders, Congress and the federal Chemical Safety Board.
This is a shining example of corporate responsibility right?
Not quite! Turns out that old wily Bayer wants to guard that toxic henhouse as well and no government agency is going to closely monitor how well Bayer lives up to its promised MIC inventory reduction. Kathy Cosco, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Bayer does not need any approvals from DEP on how it achieves the reduction. And federal EPA chemical storage reporting rules allow companies to report amounts in ranges so broad that it would be hard to determine the exact inventory reduction at the plant in Institute, West Virginia.
But hope is not lost because some feisty neighbors have had enough- “Someone needs to have some major oversight over this,” said Maya Nye, spokeswoman for the local group People Concerned About MIC. And that someone turns out to be the local folks group. Their starting a “Bucket Brigade” to monitor the plant themselves.
Let’s hope that this Bayer chemical self regulation gets major slap upside the head from Maya and her cohorts so we don’t have to read about another spillin and killin from the company. In the meantime I don’t plan to buy any of the Aspirin or any other product the chemical giant Bayer is selling.