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Bayer Fined $5.6M for Fatal Explosion

(CN) - Bayer CropScience will pay $5.6 million to settle the federal government's claims for a 2008 explosion that killed two workers at its pesticide plant in West Virginia.

Of that, $4.3 million will go to improve safety at its plant in Institute, W. Va., and to protect the nearby Kanawha River. Bayer reached the agreement Monday with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice.

"The tragic accident at the Bayer CropScience facility in West Virginia underscores the need for hazardous chemicals to be stored and handled in accordance with the law to protect worker health and the environment," Cynthia Giles, with the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said in a statement

Bayer CropScience, a division of pharmaceutical company Bayer AG, will spend another $452,000 to improve safety at chemical storage facilities in West Virginia, Texas, Missouri and Michigan.

It will also pay a $975,000 civil penalty, according to the consent decree filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

An August 2008 explosion from a thermal reaction during production of insecticides at the Institute plant near West Virginia State University killed two workers and sent another two to the hospital.

The EPA cited other problems at the pesticide plant, where Bayer did not comply with standard operating procedures to prevent accidental releases. A new digital control system was installed in 2008, but the safety interlock was not properly engaged at startup and employees were not fully trained on how to operate the system.

Employees did not follow procedures for sampling, temperature control and flow safeguards, and an uncontrollable buildup in a treatment unit caused a chemical reaction and explosion.

Bayer CropScience also delayed emergency officials who were trying to get into the plant and did not provide adequate information to 911 operators, the EPA said.

Bayer, which employs 150 people at the Institute plant, claims it has added safeguards since the explosion.

"The Bayer CropScience operations at Institute today are very different from those seven years ago," said Jim Covington, head of operations in Institute. "Improved emergency communications, strengthened operating procedures, regular safety audits - these and more all serve to help safeguard our employees and the community."

Projects funded by the settlement will improve mobile communications for first responders, provide emergency response equipment and training for fire and police departments, and expand wastewater storage to reduce the possibility of spills of toxic material from Bayer CropScience's facility, among other things.

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