The Bayer Group was listed as the most toxic company in the U.S. in the March 2010 release of the University of Massachusetts (UMass)’ Political Economy Resource Institute (PERI) “Toxic 100 Air Polluters’ Index”, which is a scorecard listing the 100 top air polluters in the U.S. based on chemical release data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 2006 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI measures the weight in pounds of about 600 chemicals released into the air based on reports submitted annually by the facilities as required under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics then uses the TRI data to assess the related human health risk based on three factors:
1. How the chemical is spread to the surrounding areas, based on local wind patterns, temperature, smokestack height, and concentration;
2. How dangerous (toxic) the chemical is per pound, based on a toxicity weight assigned to each chemical; and
3. The population of the surrounding areas.
Bayer’s poor ratings were largely due to incineration transfers of Diaminotoluene, a recognized carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), skin irritant and sensitizer that can cause dermatitis, blindness, asthma, convulsions, and possibly death, at its Baytown, Texas facility.
Bayer also came in fourth in PERI’s 2009 environmental justice study entitled “Justice in the Air: Tracking Toxic Pollution from America's Industries and Companies to Our States, Cities, and Neighborhoods,” which is based on the 2005 EPA TRI data and RSEI report. This study uses the EPA data to measure the degree to which toxic emissions contaminate the air in neighborhoods where people of color and low-income families live, and reveals the companies responsible for that contamination.
Because Bayer Material Science’s Baytown site, which manufactures polymers and high-performance plastics, is located in the highly populated, racially diverse area east of Houston, the human health risks presented by the toxic emissions from that site earned Bayer a place in the Top Five highest-scoring companies.
In 1998, Bayer announced plans for a 220-million lbs/year toluene diisocyanate (TDI) plant at its Baytown, TX (Toluene diisocyanate is a chemical used in the production of products such as foams and coatings). Bayer had originally intended to build this plant in Taiwan, but had to withdraw that proposal after encountering three years of protests by Taiwanese environmentalist groups and local citizens, who feared that the plant would create additional toxic pollution in an already polluted Taichung harbour, and delay tactics by the Taichung county government, which vowed to deny issuing the necessary construction permits unless the project was approved by a local referendum.
Environmental issues came into focus at the Baytown site in July of 2000, when a contractor at the site notified OSHA of a chemical spill and cleanup. OSHA found that Bayer had neglected to inform exposed employees of the emergency situation, had failed to ensure that employees wore proper safety clothing, and had neglected to monitor exposure of its employees to toxins, among other failings cited. Violations totaled $135,900.
In 2005, Bayer was issued a serious violation (one issued when OSHA believes there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm resulted from a hazard the employer knew about or should have known about) when a worker died at the site after being sprayed with phenol, a corrosive chemical, from a leaking pipe on which a gasket had not been properly installed. In addition, OSHA cited Bayer for having unclear safety procedures in the case, and the company was fined $5,000.
Besides these safety violations, the site has also been plagued by explosions. In February 2004, local residents were alarmed when a reactor that produces TDA, a chemical used in the production of polyurethane foam, exploded when it was restarted after routine maintenance. Residents claimed they did not hear about the cause until it was announced on Houston television stations a half an hour after the explosion. No injuries were reported, and Bayer claimed that no toxic chemicals were released.
In September 2006, 22 workers were injured at the site when a process vessel containing TDI exploded, resulting in the discharge of carcinogenic chemicals and toxic gas ammonia. The workers were treated for burns and eye, nose and throat irritations, and the plant was closed down for three months. No violations were issued by OSHA in the case. However, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality determined that the explosion had been caused by the result of "over pressurization" within a process vessel and assessed a fine of over $5,000. The following year, a class action lawsuit was filed against Bayer by workers injured in the explosion, alleging that it was a result of its unsafe practices and that plant officials were having problems with the TDI unit before the explosion but didn't warn contractors. These claims were settled in 2008; no documentation is available on the amount of the settlement.
It appears that little has been done by the public, federal, state, and local governments, NGOs, and the like in an effort to persuade Bayer to reduce incinerator transfer emissions at the Baytown Industrial Park site. Communication and cooperation are key factors in promoting change. Stakeholders need to join forces with the EPA to convince the federal government that this is a wide-reaching environmental justice issue in order to obtain the funding necessary to conduct additional testing. Attempts have been made by universities and the media to draw attention to the plight of the Baytown residents, but without funding to allow the EPA to test air emissions at the site and without efforts by the stakeholders to persuade Bayer to reduce the amount of waste produced at the site, little incentive exists for Bayer to alter its current practices. Bayer has taken small, low-cost steps to reduce waste; however, much more needs to be done.
As advised by Professor Ash, assistance in the form of green initiatives is available for improving processes at the Baytown site. There would be few disadvantages to Bayer in investing in green solutions, unless capital was misdirected toward projects that provide little if any return. The advantages to Bayer would be great – cost savings from reduced fines, penalties, and lawsuits, possible cost savings from reducing waste or additional revenues from finding alternate uses for that waste, improved public image, increased employee health and morale, and improved stakeholder relationships, just to name a few. In addition, other Baytown industries would be pressured to follow Bayer’s lead, resulting in an improvement of air quality that would benefit residents, workers, and local government agencies and industries that depend on an influx of residents and tourists.
The complete case study: is by Pamela L. Hughes, University of Scranton/Pennsylvania.
More information on the Bayer Baytown plant:
- Baytown (US): Lawyers prep case against Bayer
- report showing gross negligence by Bayer´s plant management:
- 22 people treated from Baytown blast
- DuPont, ADM, Bayer: Top Corporate Air Polluters in the US Named
- Pressure group urges Bayer to produce TDI plastics without phosgene after blast
www.CBGnetwork.org (in English)