Cause of Bayer Cropscience explosion-findings released

Industrial Accidents

Here’s an update on the Bayer Cropscience explosion at it’s Institure, W. Va facility. The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has released preliminary findings related to the cause of the explosion, that resulted in fatalities and evacuation of some residents in the surrounding areas. Read about the original incident here.

For those of you who are already aware of the incident, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board announced that it would conduct a public hearing on the incident on April 23, 2009 at which members of the public were invited to participate. There were several attempts by vested interests to scuttle this hearing and obfuscate the findings, under the disguise of “national security”. Thankfully these moves were successfully stalled and the hearing did take place.

However the preliminary findings were released just before the hearing actually took place. This is a summary based on information posted on the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board website.

The explosion on August 28, 2008 in Institute, W. Va., occurred as a  runaway reaction created extremely high heat and pressure in a vessel known as a residue treater, which ruptured and flew about 50-feet through the air, damaging several process vessels, twisting steel beams, and breaking pipes and conduits. Two operators died as a result.

Eight workers reported symptoms of chemical exposure, including aches and intestinal and respiratory distress, including two employees of the Norfolk Southern railway company and five Tyler Mountain, West Virginia volunteer firefighters, and an Institute, West Virginia volunteer firefighter. Two sought treatment at a hospital emergency room the next day, were treated, and released.

Releasing preliminary findings prior to a planned CSB public meeting in Institute, CSB Board Chairman John Bresland said, “Our investigation is continuing, but we are here to brief the community about what we know at this point.”

As in any such accident, there were a combination of several factors that acted together to cause the accident. Here are a few of them, if you know of any more please respond via the Comments below.

1. Replaced DCS: The control system for the Methomyl production plant was upgraded from a Honeywell system to a new Siemens system, but apparently the operators were inadequately trained on the new system. Since all screens and commands were different, during the emergency many experienced operators also could not respond quickly.

2. Startup after a long shutdown: The plant was starting up after a long shutdown. Many accidents that have occurred in chemical and process industries happened just after a major maintenance and shutdown, during startup.

3. Poor process design. The residue treater which had a heater that was supposed to break down Methomyl was undersized and incapable of handling normal loads. This caused inadequate decomposition of Methomyl.

4. Bypassing of Safety Interlocks: As a workaround to the problem above operators routinely bypassed safety interlocks.

5. Worker fatigue: Operators normally worked 12 hours a day and sometimes 18 hours. Hardly conducive to acting lightning fast in emergencies like this.

Some other factors, but which are not in the CSB reports, but gleaned from other sources on the web state that

6. Non functional toxic gas monitors: Apparently many (or all?) of the toxic gas monitors were dysfunctional. They were not hooked up to any system at all. There were none installed on the western side of the site and the wind direction that day was towards the west.

7. Non functional video cameras: There were video cameras, but not connected to any monitoring system.

However the accident could have been worse as the explosion took place right next to a tank containing the deadly chemical Methyl Isocynate (MIC for short) that caused the deaths of thousands of people in Bhopal, India several years ago when it leaked from a Union Carbide plant.

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