Bayer CropScience Banned from Producing MIC in the U.S.
CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday temporarily barred Bayer CropScience from using a West Virginia plant to produce the same toxic chemical that killed thousands in India in 1984.
U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin issued the temporary restraining at the request of residents, some of whom live near the sprawling plant in Institute, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Charleston.
The company stopped production after a fatal explosion at the plant in 2008 but it was expected to resume next week.
In his ruling, Goodwin said the residents were likely to prevail on private nuisance claims and they would face substantial harm if the highly toxic chemical methyl isocyanate is released from the site.
The chemical, also known as MIC, was involved in a 1984 leak from a former Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, that killed about 15,000 people and sickened about a half-million. The West Virginia plant was once owned by Union Carbide.
"We're happy," plaintiffs' lawyer William DePaulo said. "We consider it responsible and believe that it had a basis in fact and law."
The lawsuit seeks to bar Bayer from using or producing the chemical at the plant until several conditions are met. Chiefly, the plaintiffs want Bayer to show it has complied with safety improvements recommended after the 2008 explosion that killed two plant workers.
Bayer CropScience uses the methyl isocyanate to produce pesticide at the plant and the company says it has spent millions on safety improvements in that unit. The operation earned a state Department of Environmental Protection permit in August, but under questioning by Goodwin, Bayer CropScience lawyer Michael Fisher said the agency has not inspected those improvements.
Spokesman Tom Dover said Bayer CropScience is disappointed in the ruling.
"We believe such an action is not warranted and could have an immediate and adverse impact to our site and to the farmers who depend on our products to help produce crops important to American agriculture," Dover said. "We will review our options in response to the court's ruling."
Goodwin rejected a company request that it be allowed to start the process of making the chemical, but stop at stop before it reaches its final form.
Goodwin's order expires in 14 days, but he gave the plaintiffs until Monday to request a preliminary injunction. He scheduled an evidentiary hearing for an injunction for Feb. 25.
The 2008 explosion involved a unit that uses MIC as a component in another chemical. No MIC was released.
Bayer CropScience announced in January that it planned to resume production of MIC until mid-2012.