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Institute / W.Va.

October 12, 2008

Second Bayer employee dies from August explosion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A second person has died of injuries suffered during an August explosion at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.
Bill Oxley died Friday at a burn center in Pittsburgh. Fellow plant worker Barry Withrow was killed the night of the explosion, Aug. 28.
"Bill was a much admired and valued member of our Bayer CropScience family," said Nick Crosby, site leader at the plant. "He will be very much missed by all of his friends and colleagues."
Federal, state and local officials are investigating the explosion.
The Bayer CropScience plant in Institute received eight serious and two willful citations from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration during an inspection in 2005.
OSHA inspectors alleged the company disregarded its own safety studies, failed to correct potential hazards, and ignored requirements for toxic-leak response plans.
Bayer paid a $110,000 fine to settle the case, and promised a series of reforms. OSHA officials said the company complied and abated the violations according to the settlement. A later inspection, in October 2007, prompted no OSHA citations.
The last fatal accident in the area's chemical industry was a 1994 explosion and fire at the plant, then owned by the French firm Rhone-Poulenc. One worker died in the blast and a second died a decade later from lung burns sustained in that accident.
That accident drew a West Virginia record $1.7 million in fines from OSHA, but federal officials later settled the case for less than half that amount.
Local and county officials have criticized Bayer for not alerting emergency officials about the explosion and not communicating with them in the hours that followed.
Witnesses to the explosion reported seeing a red fireball and feeling the blast as far away as Charleston.
Thousands of residents between South Charleston and the Putnam County line were advised to take shelter in their homes, and the main highways through the area - Interstate 64, U.S. 60 and W.Va. 25 - were closed for several hours.
Among items the plant produces is methyl isocyanate, or MIC, the chemical that killed thousands of people in a leak from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984.
Reach Scott Finn