Bayer Plant Explosion Leaves One Dead in West Virginia

An <"">explosion at a Bayer chemical plant outside of Charleston, West Virginia last night has killed one worker and injured another. The Bayer CropScience plant manufactures pesticides, and officials were urging residents in several communities nearby to stay in their homes Thursday night as a precaution.

According to the Charleston Daily Mail, the worker killed in the explosion was identified as Barry Withrow, of Cross Lanes, who worked at the plant for more than 20 years. Emergency crews recovered his body between 3 and 4 a.m. this morning.

A second employee was injured and transported to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh. That person has not been identified.

The explosion happened about 10:25 last night, and was felt at least a mile away. A fire blazed for several hours, and fire crews worked into the morning to contain it.

According to a spokesperson for Bayer, the explosion occurred in a section of the plant where waste products are treated before disposal. The unit had been closed for maintenance and was restarted earlier in the week

“There was a chemical release in the immediate area of the structure which developed into a fire several minutes later,” stated a Bayer press release. “The fire was brought under control by emergency response personnel from the site, and was extinguished at about 2 a.m. after operations employees completed the isolation of the operating equipment.

A Bayer official told the Daily Mail that quality tests conducted around the site determined that no harmful chemical exposure resulted from the blaze. He said people in the area may smell a foul odor, but there are no harmful effects.

The Daily Mail reported that the chemical involved in the Bayer plant explosion was methomyl, which is used to make pesticides. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methomyl is a highly toxic. But a Bayer official maintained that no toxins were exposed to the air because of a decomposition reaction.

Other chemicals involved in the explosion were dimethyl disulfide, methylisobutylketone and hexane.  All three are “harmful irritants, according to the Daily Mail.

The Bayer CropScience plant also produces methyl isocyanate, which killed at least 15,000 people in a leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984. But fortunately, that chemical was stored underground, far from the site of the explosion.

According to CNN, emergency officials in Kanawha County at first ordered people to stay inside in the cities of South Charleston, Cross Lane, Dunbar and St. Albans.  Authorities lifted the order about 2:15 a.m. after the Bayer CropScience plant told the county that the explosion did not send contaminants into the air.

West Virginia State University, which is adjacent to the plant, did not cancel classes today.

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