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Nancy Swan Wins an "A" For Accountability Award For Her Whistleblower Story of the 120 Ton Ticking Time Bomb Called Methyl Isocyanate (MIC)
On May 17th 2009, the New York Times ran a benign sounding editorial, “Chemical Plant Safety.” The editorial wasn’t about plant safety; it was about unsafe conditions at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, where over a hundred tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), one of the most deadly and toxic chemicals in the industry is being stored. Institute is a 120 ton ticking time bomb so volatile it can be detonated by one drop of water or a metal filing. Institute is allowed by our government to hide its chemical "weapon" behind our national security laws while they assure us that the MIC stored in West Virginia is safe. Unfortunately, awareness and education do not influence Washington, money does.
   Nancy Swan   
We are giving Nancy Swan an "A" For Accountability Award for her efforts to expose the deadly effects of the chemical methyl isocyanate on the human body, and the lack of proper oversight of the storage facility at Bayer CropScience in Institute, West Virginia. Ms. Swan and I were both speakers at the Citizen's Forum on Judicial Accountability in Washington DC in May 2007.

Keep up the excellent work, Nancy!

Betsy Combier
Founder and Creeator, The "A For Accountability" Award and the "F For Fraud" Award
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Co-Sponsor, Citizen's Forum on Judicial Accountability
Secretary, International Whistleblower Association

May 31, 2009

COMMENTARY: MIC storage at Institute, WV: A Ticking Bomb
By Nancy Swan, Special to

Twenty five governors, including West Virginia's Governor Joe Manchin, proclaimed May as Toxic Injury Awareness and Education Month. Following the explosion last August at the Bayer plant, Gov. Manchin introduced a bill to provide timely information to protect emergency workers, but there is no such legislation to protect residents. As a former teacher and victim of methyl isocyanate poisoning, I know that toxic injury awareness and education is worthless if its lessons are not learned and appropriate action not taken.

The first week in May, the refusal of Bayer CropScience to provide chemical safety records led the local news. Then on May 17th, the New York Times ran a benign sounding editorial, “Chemical Plant Safety.” The editorial wasn’t about plant safety; it was about unsafe conditions at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, where over a hundred tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), one of the most deadly and toxic chemicals in the industry is being stored.

False assurances

The failed safety systems that led to the explosion at Bayer Institute plant is an ominous reminder to our national leaders of the lesson not learned from the disasterous leak of MIC at the Union Carbide plant. In 1984, India was so fearful and preoccupied with a downturn in the economy, climate change, and massive layoffs, that it failed to heed warnings about the danger of the MIC storage at the Union Carbide plant.

India's government officials, continued to placed their faith in foreign owned chemical giant in Institute, West Virginia. The Institute plant assured India that the storage tanks in Bhopal were safe, despite citations for safety violations, failure of monitoring systems, leaks of MIC into the community, an explosion and fatality.

The Institute's assurances proved worthless. On December 2, 1984, a chain reaction exploded a tank of MIC at the Union Carbide plant, killing and injuring half a million people, destroying livestock and food sources, and polluting land and waterways. Lessons learned? Not hardly.

In May 2009, Bayer assured our government leaders that the Institute plant was safe. Our national leaders are now aware of the Bayer Institute plant's a similar record of safety violations, failure of monitoring systems, leaks of MIC into the community, and an explosion- but with two fatalities. They have been educated that the Institute plant has twice the MIC and are aware of the dangers posed by the storage of deadly MIC.

Institute is a 120 ton ticking time bomb so volatile it can be detonated by one drop of water or a metal filing. Institute is allowed by our government to hid its chemical "weapon" behind our national security laws while they assure us that the MIC stored in West Virginia is safe. Unfortunately, awareness and education do not influence Washington, money does.

Warnings ignored

In "Five Minutes Past Midnight in Bhopal", authors Dominique LaPierre and Javier Moro give us a history lesson of the events that led to explosion and leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) stored at the Union Carbide plant.

Two years prior to the disaster, journalist Rajkumar Keswani published warnings about the MIC storage, that the Union Carbide plant was a sitting on top of a “volcano.” A few months before the blast, a chemist from the Bayer plant in Germany warned the chemical plantengineer that storing 63 tons of MIC was a “real atomic bomb right in the middle of the plant.” Eager to profit from the Bhopal plant, Institute ignored the warnings, resulting in the worst industrial tragedy in history.

Toxic Injuries

Imprinted on my mind was LaPierre and Moro’s dramatic detail, and education of the carnage wreaked from MIC. Twice as heavy as air, the poisonous cloud blanketed the ground, seeping into homes, schools, places of worship. Thousands ran through the streets trying to escape the searing, suffocating chemicals.

Ripping their clothing off their burning skin, many dropped dead, others lay dying in pools of their own vomit in the roads and alleyways. A medic bent over a child to give mouth -to-mouth resuscitation. The gas was so deadly, that after inhaling the air from the child’s lungs, he was the next to die.

Tortured bodies

LaPierre and Moro describe the condition of bodies. Two doctors climbed over hundreds of dead piled up at the medical clinic. The bodies appeared tortured before dying- “inflamed eyes about to burst. . Fetid, foul breath from the mouths oozing blood streaked froth."

An entire family wiped out, the parents and their six children lay sprawled on the ground, their eyes bulging, "the youngest had died sucking their thumbs.” A little girl, her carefully braided hair adorned with marigolds, lay among the dead, her eyes rolled back into her head, her mouth twisted, set into dreadful grimace.

Bodies were tortured even after death.C2 “Under pressure from the gases produced by the chemical decomposition of MIC,” writes the authors, “the corpses were subject to strange twitches. Here an arm stretched itself out, there a leg.” A fleeing driver, blinded by the chemicals, remains haunted by the sound of human bones crushing beneath his tires.

Bottle-necked bureaucracy

I am outraged that our elected officials and government leaders, bloated from benefits paid by giant chemical companies and bottle-necked by their own bureaucracy, pretend not to be aware, not to be educated about the dangers and potential for death and injury by MIC at Institute.

The stockpile of MIC at the Institute plant is reported to be more than twice as large as that the Bhopal plant, and a record of safety just as bad. A disaster of that magnitude could destroy millions of American lives, kill major food sources, pollute large portions of our land, ruin major waterways and total our struggling economy.

So great is the danger that under today’s laws, a foreign-owned company like Bayer, threatening lives of millions innocent American men, women, and children with one of the most deadly industrial chemicals on earth should be treated as an act of terrorism. Where is the outrage and historical swift action of our government officials?

How many more "toxic injury awareness" lessons do we need? Perhaps our leaders are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history because they are so distracted by international issues it fails to notice the danger lurking in its own backyard.

Write your U. S. Congressmen and government leaders and demand that our nation safely rid its communities of dangerous stockpiles of toxic chemicals, starting with storage of MIC at the Bayer CropScience plant.

* * *

Editor’s Note: A former teacher, Nancy Swan has had her commentaries n published in USA Today, Biloxi Sun Herald, Mobile Press Register, Memphis Commercial Appeal Jackson Mississippi Clarion Ledger, and HNN. She lives in a body damaged by methyl isocyanate. Despite warning labels on barrels and the history lesson from the tragedy in Bhopal, the Long Beach Mississippi school board allowed a roofing contractor to apply a spray on foam roofing and coating products during the school day. The chemicals contained various compounds of isocyanate, including methyl isocyanate and toluene diphenol isocyanate. After three days of exposure in October 1985, over two dozen children and teachers, including Mrs. Swan, were left with serious and permanent damage to respiratory and nervous systems.

Swan's soon to be published book, Toxic Justice, describes her metamorphosis from middle school teacher to ardent crusader for safer schools, environmental protection and judicial reform.

One of her editorials on judicial reform led to the conviction of half a dozen high profile attorneys and judges. Nancy Swan’s husband is a professional editorial cartoonist. Three of his cartoons were published alongside her commentaries. Her commentary on the hazards for corruption whistle-blowers is posted on Transparency International's Barometer 2009.

Nancy Swan is a supporter of Healthy Schools Network, Advisory Board vice president of POPULAR, Inc. a human rights organization. She also serves as Alabama Delegate leader for Amnesty International USA. She was been asked to be spokesperson and to participate in the EPA Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program in the southeastern region.

Investigators Find Fault With Bayer CropScience
Posted Thursday, April 30, 2009 ; 06:00 AM

Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said Bayer has been uncooperative in the CSB's investigation and has hindered its efforts.
Story by Gretchen Mae Stone

Bayer CropScience ignored faulty equipment and overworked its employees leading up to the August 2008 explosion at the Institute plant that left two long-time workers dead, according to initial findings by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

The CSB released its initial findings at a news conference April 23. A final report is expected by year's end.

John Bresland, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said Bayer has been uncooperative in the CSB's investigation and has hindered its efforts.

Bayer exchanged correspondence with the U.S. Coast Guard in attempts to keep more than 1,000 pages involving MIC from investigators, according to a recent congressional investigation.

"This issue of sensitive security information has basically brought our investigation to a halt for the last 10 weeks," Bresland said. "I'm deeply disappointed with Bayer's conduct in this matter."

Bayer Refutes Claims

Bayer insists the media have released incorrect information in recent days about evidence tampering.

A congressional memo stated Bayer officials testified evidence was removed and destroyed after the chemical explosion at its Institute plant last year to keep information surrounding the explosion secret. The memo was part of a congressional investigation before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 21 in Washington, D.C.

Bryan Iams, head of strategic and external communications for Bayer, said CSB officials inspected a blast mat purportedly removed and destroyed that remains at the site today.

Daniel Horowitz, director of the CSB Office of Congressional, Public, and Board Affairs, said the blast mat was taken off the methyl isocyanate tank and placed in a yard for evidence collection at some later time. He said the mat was hanging on the tank when CSB officials arrived but was missing when the inspection began. He said there is no written record of the mat's inspection while on the tank.

Horowitz said Bayer officials began insisting the mat still existed after the committee report.

"Ideally (the CSB investigators) would want to witness the mat's removal," Horowitz said.

Also, the committee memo listed missing video footage of the explosion because a contractor purposely disconnected equipment.

Iams said the camera was disconnected for routine maintenance just days before the explosion and taken to Brown Electric.

Horowitz said Bayer hasn't told the CSB where the camera was taken, and Energy and Commerce Committee reports suggest four hours of tape before the explosion are missing.

He said, to his knowledge, the CSB has not received documentation as to who disconnected the camera, why and through what authorization.

He said Bayer has confirmed the basic events, but has not provided a reason for the record gap, according to the congressional committee's supplemental memo.

CSB: MIC Tanks Concern

Bresland said it is fortunate the MIC tank that sat just 80 feet from the explosion was not breeched. The tank contained more than 13,000 pounds of MIC, and piping containing MIC was located in overhead pipe racks in the area, he said.

The House committee concluded the explosion's consequences could have eclipsed the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India, had the tank hit the MIC tank. A 1984 MIC leak in Bhopal killed 3,800 people and affected the health of 170,000 survivors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site.

A Union Carbide investigation team inspected written documents in India in 1985 and conducted experiments to conclude about 54,000 gallons of MIC was released, according to Tomm F. Sprick, director of the Union Carbide Information Center. He said plant records at that time indicated MIC inventory of just under 135,000 pounds.

Iams said the MIC production unit's maximum inventory is 200,000 pounds, and the day tank holds up to 40,000 pounds. The company typically keeps a two-day MIC supply on hand, he said.

The company makes MIC for its own production and does not ship it anywhere, he said.

Kathy Cosco, public information officer for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said no other MIC-producing facilities are located in West Virginia.

Further investigation will include possible changes that could be made to Bayer's storage of MIC. Bayer is the only U.S. facility with MIC inventory exceeding a threshold quantity of 10,000 pounds that requires a risk management plan.

An underground tank near the main facility contains 200,000 pounds of MIC, and an MIC day tank is about 80 feet from the August 2008 explosion site.

A DuPont plant in Texas stores very little MIC but uses it to make numerous products. That plant used to ship railcars full of MIC from the northeast to Texas in the mid-1980s.

"They now make and consume MIC in a very small section of the piping system. There's only a few pounds available at any given time," said John Vorderbrueggen, the CSB's investigation supervisor in the Bayer explosion.

"In fact, DuPont patented this process and received an award in 1987, so we will be looking at this technology and we will be considering that as it could be applied at the Bayer CropScience facility."

Maintenance Shutdown

John Vorderbrueggen said an extended maintenance shutdown preceded the explosion.

Workers at the plant were fatigued from averaging 20 hours a week in overtime during an overhaul in the three months leading up to the explosion, Vorderbrueggen said. They repeatedly worked 12 to 18 hour days with few days off, he said.

Fatigued workers combined with several other problems at the plant, investigators said.

Bayer had serious lapses in its safety management and overrode safety features that could have avoided the explosion, investigators found.

A heater on the Methomyl residue tank was too small to process chemicals -- employees had to override safety features to begin the decomposition of Methomyl, investigators found.

This involved deactivating safety interlocks controlling the flow of chemicals into the residue treater, Vorderbrueggen said.

Tired workers forgot to prefill the residue treater with solvent, a critical step in the startup process meant to keep the Methomyl concentration below 1 percent, Vorderbrueggen said. A concentration above this would cause the treater to violently rupture, according to safety analyses and operator procedures.

"As a result of equipment deficiencies, improper procedures and lack of training on the new computer control equipment, the vessel was charged with as much as 20 percent concentration of Methomyl on the night of the explosion," Vorderbrueggen said. "It was a runaway chemical reaction."

The residue treater suddenly ruptured, ejecting as much as 2,500 gallons of highly flammable and very toxic chemicals, he said. The chemicals poured over Barry Withrow and Bill Oxley, two workers who suffered fatal injuries in the explosion.

Bayer knew about the undersized vessel heater for years that led employees to work around safety features, he said.

"Workarounds became the norm," he said.

Bresland said he would not want to live near the Bayer plant in Institute with its present safety plan. He has operated numerous large chemical facilities across the East Coast during his career.

"We're looking at the technologies used by some companies, notably DuPont in LaPort, Texas. These companies produce and use MIC as needed immediately for production, eliminating the need for storage," Bresland said.

Community Reactions

The CSB spent three hours April 23 explaining what went wrong in August 2008.

The investigative team also plans continued attempts to acquire a missing Methomyl/Larvin unit security camera and MIC monitors' data, which were brought to the team's attention in recent days.

The investigative team's findings preceded a community panel and harsh critiques from residents tired of problems at the plant. Hundreds of people attended the CSB's public meeting to hear its initial findings released earlier at a morning news conference.

Maya Nye, spokeswoman for People Concerned About MIC, explained how fear about MIC has affected her since age 16. An explosion rocked the plant and surrounding buildings 15 years ago, killing two men, as she sheltered-in-place at home. she said.

"I sat there with my dog, crying and hoping that wasn't the last phone call I was ever going to have with my father," Nye said.

She said her story is only one of thousands in the valley community.

Like that incident, she said, two workers died in the August 2008 explosion, and again notification did not go to the people immediately affected. Again, local residents had property damage, she said.

After Nye's testimony, CSB member William E. Wright said: "I agree with you that public relations should take a back seat to public safety."

"We did not form our community around this chemical plant," Nye said. "It planted itself in our community."

User Comments

User Comment
5/1/09 at 8:04 AM Report Abuse
Are these abusively evasive executives and managers of Bayer running a deceitful conspiracy or WHAT?! Their apparent malfeasance, misfeasance and misconduct raises serious questions of gross negligence, if not criminal contraventions of applicable laws and regulations. ...funfun..

User Comment
Nancy Swan
4/30/09 at 12:53 PM Report Abuse
I've been following these stories about Bayer's stalling tactics and am supporting PCMIC in their vigilance to rid their community.

As a victim of MIC poisoning, I suffer from serious burns to my entire respiratory system, including lungs and eyes, and brain damage. I later found out that was not covered under any safety regulation because I was a "bystander" a teacher employed by the school, rather than an employee of the contractor or manufacturer.

One Confirmed Dead in Bayer Explosion
Updated Friday, September 5, 2008 ; 09:21 PM

State and federal agencies are looking into the cause of Thursday's explosion at the Bayer Crop Science Plant in Institute.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board will hold a press conference along with Kanawha County commissioners and emergency personnel at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The purpose is for the board to announce its investigation into the cause of the explosion.

The board is an independent agency created by Congress through the Clean Air Act.


One person was killed and another was injured in an explosion late Thursday at a unit of the Bayer CropScience Plant in Institute.

The explosion occurred in the waste section of the plant, but the extent of the damage, as well as the cause, is still unknown.

A heavy fire could be seen for miles.

Barry Withrow, whose age is unknown, was killed in the fire. Bill Oxley was injured in the explosion. He was transported to CAMC General before being transferred to the burn center at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.

The plant's emergency sensors did not indicate any substantial toxic chemicals were released outside of the plant. There was a sulfur smell in the area following the fire, but authorities said it was not harmful to the public.

During a press conference Friday afternoon, Nick Cosby, the site manager at the plant, said Withrow was "a model employee" and had "gone the extra mile" during his time on the job.

Cosby said state and some federal investigators were on scene and trying to determine what caused the blast.

That section of the plant is only operational for five to seven months out of the year and crews working when the blast occurred were in the process of bringing it back online, Cosby said.

He said there was no evidence that a safety procedure had been violated.

Withrow's body was taken to the State Medical Examiner's Office in South Charleston.

Interstate 64, Routes 25 and 60, and the Dunbar Bridges were closed for almost four hours while the plant was being secured. Those roads reopened just after 2 a.m.

A shelter-in-place alert was also put into effect for western Kanawha County and the cities of Institute, St. Albans, Jefferson, South Charleston, Instituted and Dunbar. That shelter in place was lifted also about 2 a.m.

Weather conditions throughout the evening, mostly the lack of wind and rain, helped contain the chemicals and fight the spread of the toxins. However, the evening fog that covered the area had some concerned that the chemicals could have been more wide-spread.

West Virginia State University was also under the shelter-in-place, all students are safe, and classes went on as scheduled Friday.

A five-member investigation team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is expected on the scene. The investigative team will be accompanied by CSB Chairman and CEO John Bresland, who will serve as the principal spokesperson. A release from the board says the team is expected to arrive late Friday evening.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards and safety management systems, the release said.

For more information about the explosion, the public may contact the Emergency Operation Center at any of the following numbers:
(304) 746-8828
(304) 746-8738
(304) 746-8739
(304) 746-8740

The public is asked NOT to call 911.

Larvin, the chemical being produced in this section of the plant, is an insecticide used on multiple crops including corn, cotton, and many other vegetables

Stay with 13 News and for the latest information as it becomes available.

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