Back in 1984, thousands of people around Bhopal, India were killed when a Union Carbide tank of methyl isocyanate leaked 40 tons of the poisonous gas. Many more people were permanently injured. It was one of the worst industrial accidents in history… and a similar accident nearly took place in West Virginia in 2008.
Yesterday, the chairs of 4 congressional committees announced that they had sent a letter to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, requesting an examination of the use of methyl isocyanate by Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of Bayer Corporation. Although other corporations instituted policies to avoid storing large amounts of methyl isocyanate in single locations after the Bhopal disaster, Bayer never made such changes. Last year, an large explosion at a Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, West Virginia nearly ruptured a tank of methyl isocyanate. The 18 ton tank of methyl isocyanate was only 80 feet away from where the explosion took place. A five thousand pound tank was hurled 50 feet in the explosion. Other debris was cast out even farther. Two people were killed in the explosion – but the accident could have resulted in the deaths of huge numbers more.
The chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has already testified that Bayer CropScience demonstrated “significant process safety management deficiencies” that led directly to last year’s accident.
25 years after an infamous disaster, Bayer is still playing around with deadly chemicals… but then, so are many others. Let’s not give Bayer CropScience all the blame for putting the huge numbers of people at risk. After all, some responsibility lies with those who buy Bayer’s methyl isocyanate products.
Methyl isocyanate doesn’t just happen to be poisonous. Poison is its intended function. Methyl isocyanate is a component in agricultural pesticides used across America. It is a problem to store methyl isocyanate in large containers, but that problem has its origins in the belief central to so-called “conventional” agriculture that spraying poisons across fields of food crops is a good idea. The ingredients of the Bhopal disaster are present not just at one chemical facility in West Virginia, but in the industrial agricultural system all across the USA.