Press Release, April 6, 2011
Coalition against Bayer Dangers (Germany)

BAYER further increases Phosgene Production

Poison gas used in World War I / explosions in US plants / Factory in Taiwan inhibited

BAYER wants to significantly expand its polyurethane production. Phosgene, considered one of the most toxic industrial chemicals in existence, developed by BAYER during World War I for chemical warfare, is to be used as an intermediate. The Coalition Against Bayer Dangers is challenging the company to set up phosgene-free plastic manufacture. BAYER instead clings to its high-risk production methods.

In 1998 the construction of a huge polyurethanes factory in Taiwan was prevented by local opposition groups. Protests were mounted primarily against the threats of phosgene which was to be used as an intermediate. In the following years several explosions occurred in BAYER´s US polyurethane facilities. Investigations of the incidents showed gross negligence by the management.

Now the company plans to extend polyurethane production significantly: at Brunsbuettel/Germany more than 400,000 metric tons of MDI (diphenylmethane diisocyanate) rigid foam are to be made – a doubling of the current capacities. In Dormagen/Germany, the capacity of TDI flexible foam is to be increased by a factor of six to 300,000 metric tons. BAYER´s competitor BASF has received approval for a 400,000 metric tons per year MDI project in Chongqing, China.

In the course of these expansions, production of the lethal gas phosgene would rise by tens of thousands of tons annually. Phosgene is fatal, even in the smallest doses. Inhalation causes respiratory distress, pulmonary edema and finally cardiac arrest. Phosgene chemistry is considered one of the most dangerous technologies, second only to nuclear plants.

The Coalition Against BAYER Dangers (CBG) has been demanding the use of non-phosgene processes in the plastic production for many years. BAYER and BASF have not as yet stated the extent to which such alternative methods have been investigated, or whether they have not been developed simply for reasons of profit or a lack of patents.

Philipp Mimkes from the Coalition`s board says: “Hazards must be minimized in advance, the Fukushima disaster shows that the unthinkable can happen. BAYER and BASF should concentrate their efforts on developing non-phosgene production processes for polyurethanes and polycarbonates, suitable for full-scale operation. Until that time, no new plants should be built. With a lifespan of 30 to 35 years, this hazardous production method would otherwise continue to be a threat for decades.”

The German Association for Technical Inspection (TÜV) found that in a worst case scenario the population in an area of 1.7 square kilometers would be exposed to a phosgene dose that would be fatal for half the population. In densely populated areas this would be equivalent to over 2,000 deaths. In the “B Zone”, an area of 6.75 square kilometers, more than 15,000 residents would be exposed to a level that can be fatal at least in individual cases.

The fact that the risks to local residents and employees are not of a theoretical nature is supported by the severe incident two years ago at the BAYER site in Institute/USA, where phosgene also is used in large quantities. People in a radius of 10 miles could feel the explosion. An investigation by the U.S. Congress concluded that only fortunate circumstances had prevented a disaster like the one at Bhopal, India.

In 2000, phosgene was released in Dormagen following a leak in a heat exchanger. This led to a serious incident, with more than 30 employees requiring medical treatment. Severe incidents have also occurred in polyurethane production itself, for example in Dormagen in 1997 and at the Baytown/USA site in 2004 and 2006. After the explosions there, U.S. inspectors identified numerous serious violations of safety regulations and said BAYER MaterialScience’s approach was “grossly negligent.”

Philipp Mimkes concludes: “In view of the high risk and frequent incidents, it is imperative to phase out phosgene production so as to prevent further potential deaths and injuries.”

more information:
·TDI production: 22 people treated from Baytown blast
·Institute/US: BAYER to finally quit production of phosgene and MIC
·Polyurethanes: Explosion rocks Bayer plant in Baytown
·TDI Production: BAYER's plans in Taiwan inhibited
·TDI production: report shows "gross negligence" by Bayer management SkinnerReport.pdf