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Union Carbide Begins Disposal Of Methyl Isocyanate With AM-Union Carbide-MIC Bjt

January 24, 1985

INSTITUTE, W.Va. (AP) _ As federal and state experts kept a careful watch, Union Carbide Corp. on Thursday began disposing of the last 3,000 pounds of deadly methyl isocyanate at its Institute plant, only U.S. maker of the chemical that killed more than 2,000 people in India.

Officials said the neutralization process employed by Carbide had never before been used to dispose of such large quantities of the chemical, but they expressed confidence it would pose little danger.

″We believe it’s safe,″ said Tim Laraway of the state Department of Natural Resources. ″We’re going there to observe as a contingency. Someone will be there to oversee any emergency.″

The Institute plant, about 10 miles west of Charleston, was the only U.S. producer of methyl isocyanate until a leak of the chemical from an identical Carbide plant at Bhopal, India, killed more than 2,000 people last month. U.S. production was halted after the disaster.

Carbide officials said Jan. 10 that all remaining MIC at Institute had been converted into pesticide. But state officials disclosed this week that another batch of 3,000 pounds had been discovered.

″All of the methyl isocyanate that could have been used in the production process was used,″ Laraway said. ″The remainder is material that they could not use in their production process because it didn’t meet their specifications.″

The chemical was being neutralized in a pollution-control device by being mixed with sodium hydroxide and water to produce dimethylurea, a non-toxic substance that was to be dumped into the Kanawha River.

State Air Pollution Control Commissioner Carl Beard said the dimethylurea is more stable and less harmful than MIC, and that the amount dumped in the river, a tributary of the Ohio River, would not be hazardous.

Guards at the sprawling plant prohibited reporters from observing the neutralization process, which was being monitored by officials from the DNR, Beard’s office, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The disposal came a day after the EPA issued a report saying 28 leaks of MIC occurred in the last five years at the Institute plant. In addition, an internal Carbide memo obtained Thursday showed that Carbide safety officials were worried as early as last July about ″the possibility of a runaway reaction″ in the Institute plant’s methyl isocyanate unit.

Plant spokesman Dick Henderson said the company had no immediate comment on the reports. But he said the internal memo was a report of what was found by a Carbide safety audit team that ″plays the role of a devil’s advocate. They take the worst-case scenario.″

Two Carbide equipment test workers interviewed Thursday in front of the plant’s MIC production unit said they were not concerned about the plant’s safety record.

″They blew this thing way out of proportion. I don’t think anybody should fault Carbide. They play it safe,″ said Charlie Casto, 56, of Elkview, who has worked at the plant for 33 years.

A co-worker and 17-year plant veteran, Dick Gregory, agreed.

″We have real good safety procedures. We try to stick to them. We go to extremes to try to make it safe,″ said Gregory, 41, of Charleston.

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