Bayer CropScience announced Monday it has brought in a new core management team for its Institute chemical plant, as the company tries to rebuild its safety performance and community reputation following an explosion and fire that killed two workers in August 2008.
Plant manager Nick Crosby is being moved to a "new role" at Bayer's North American headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and his duties are being split between two new positions.
Steve Hedrick will serve as the new head of the Institute industrial park, while Hank Teschendorf will become head of manufacturing for Bayer CropScience.
Both men have ties to the Kanawha Valley. Hedrick, 39, grew up in Cedar Grove. After graduating from West Point, he eventually joined Lyondell Chemical's South Charleston operations, which Bayer bought in 2000. Hedrick was most recently head of occupational safety at Bayer's Baytown, Texas, facility.
Teschendorf, 57, worked for several years at the Institute plant.
Bill Buckner, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience, said in a news release that Hedrick would focus on "the overarching goals" of the plant and Teschendorf would "direct his attention to the site's day-to-day manufacturing operations."
During a news conference, Bayer senior vice president Chris Evans said the changes were made as part of an effort to improve safety at the Institute plant.
"Clearly we wanted to increase our focus," Evans said.
Hedrick told reporters, "We have an opportunity to improve our standing in this community. I am absolutely committed to the safety of the people who work here and live here."
Maya Nye, a spokeswoman for the group People Concerned About MIC, said replacing Crosby as plant manager "is not going to solve the problems that exist at the Institute facility."
"While under his management team's helm, some really poor decisions were made that cost the lives of two workers, it is my opinion that Nick Crosby served Bayer Corporation well - as the scapegoat for substandard corporate values and business practices," Nye said. "Until those are changed, the problems will remain."
Plant workers Bill Oxley and Barry Withrow died as a result of the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and fire in Bayer's Methomyl-Larvin unit.
Investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board and a congressional committee found that Bayer plant officials continued to use long-deficient equipment, leading employees to bypass safety gear and causing a runaway reaction that led to the explosion and fire.
Government investigators concluded the incident could have caused a Bhopal-sized chemical disaster, if a nearby tank of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, had been damaged.
MIC was the chemical that killed thousands of people when it leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in December 1984. The Institute facility - with an MIC inventory that averages 240,000 pounds - remains the only U.S. plant that stores large quantities of the material.
Bayer officials said Monday they are on schedule to reduce the plant's MIC stockpile by 80 percent. No construction has started, and Bayer is still working on engineering designs for that project, officials said.
When the $25 million project was announced in August 2009, Bayer said it would take about a year.
Evans said Monday construction work on the project isn't expected to start until sometime between August and October this year. But, he said, MIC production is scheduled to stop in August to the plant can "de-inventory" in preparation for the construction work.
"I think we're on track," Evans said.
Ken Ward Jr. | Gazette photo
Steven Hedrick is the new manager of the Institute plant.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.
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