CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Union Carbide, saying it can't keep pace with larger farm chemical companies, said Tuesday that it is selling all of its agricultural division except the Bhopal, India, plant where a gas leak killed more than 2,000 people.
"We are competing against $1-billion-plus agriculture companies around the world, and they are about double our size in sales and probably double our size in what they are spending in research and development," Carbide President Robert D. Kennedy said at a news conference here.
Kennedy said the sale of Union Carbide Agricultural Products should be completed in four to six months. He said that several major chemical companies have approached Carbide about buying the wholly owned subsidiary but that no negotiations had been held.
Company spokesman Kurt Mazurosky, at Carbide headquarters in Danbury, Conn., said Carbide Ltd. of India will keep the Bhopal plant while it settles lawsuits stemming from the December, 1984, leak of methyl isocyanate that killed more than 2,000 people.
MIC is a key chemical used in pesticides, including Carbide's two biggest farm products, Temik and Sevin.
Mazurosky would not say whether the Bhopal plant will be sold after the litigation is completed.
"Bhopal really had no influence on this," Kennedy said. He said the corporation decided to shed its agricultural chemicals line in July, 1985, but delayed the announcement while it dealt with the temporary closure of the aldicarb unit at its Institute, W.Va., plant after an August, 1985, chemical leak there injured 135 people.
Carbide is fighting a record $1.3 million in federal fines for alleged safety violations at Institute following a "wall-to-wall' inspection by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Kennedy said the proposed sale involves six plants in six states and three foreign countries. He said profits from the divestiture would help trim roughly $4.5 billion in corporate debt and finance added investment in the corporation's profitable specialty chemicals division.
Carbide would retain no interest in its agriculture division after the sale, Kennedy said, although he used the words "merger" and "marriage" repeatedly during his press conference.
"We will sell it; I'm sure it will look like a merger of businesses because the likely buyers, the only ones we can envision, are themselves agriculture chemical producers," he said.
Mazurosky said the world's chief farm chemical competitors include Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Diamond-Shamrock.
Kennedy would not divulge an asking price for the $500-million-a-year agriculture division, which employs about 4,000 people worldwide. He said that any buyers "are going to be paying a fair dollar for it."
Spokesman Harvey Cobert said the Agricultural Products division has plants at Institute; Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Woodbine, Ga.; Clinton, Iowa; St. Joseph and St. Louis, Mo., and Ambler, Pa.
He said the division also has affiliate facilities in Calgary, Canada; Bezier, France, and Cubatao, Brazil.
Kennedy said that about half of the Institute plant's 1,700 employees work in the agriculture division. He said Carbide will retain ownership of the other half of the plant, involved in industrial chemical manufacture.