CSB releases report with new details about dangers at DuPont’s pesticide plant

30 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

CSB Report finds safety issues at DuPont’s Texas plant.

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal investigation into a poisonous gas leak that killed four workers at a Houston-area chemical plant in November found weaknesses and failures in the facility’s safety planning and procedures, officials said Wednesday. The Chemical Safety Board is holding a public hearing tomorrow in Houston to solicit comment on a preliminary investigative report that outlines why the small federal agency has concluded that DuPont’s La Porte-based pesticide plant posed a major risk to workers and to public safety in the agency’s ongoing investigation of a November accident that resulted in the deaths of four workers and a leak of nearly 24,000 pounds of the toxic methyl mercaptan. On November 15, four workers were killed and a fifth injured when methyl mercaptan, which is used in the insecticide and fungicide manufacturing process, was released in what DuPont itself has described as a chain of operator errors.

But CSB has indicated in previous public briefings that the problems go deeper and should prompt reviews of the design of the plant, of flawed procedures and of DuPont’s corporate safety culture. The report says neither workers nor the public are protected against chemical exposure by equipment or safety procedures at the facility. “DuPont … has long been regarded as a safety leader in the chemical industry. Over a span of 5 hours and 46 minutes, some 23,649 pounds of methyl mercaptan were released into the atmosphere, according to a report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which also is investigating the release. TCEQ’s toxicologists used air dispersion modeling to estimate ground level concentrations at the plant property line on the morning of the accident, a report shows. The unit where the workers died did not having adequate ventilation or air monitoring to ensure employee safety, and procedures weren’t followed that would have restricted worker access into areas where ventilation fans weren’t working, according to the report.

TCEQ has proposed an administrative penalty of $25,000 for the accident, but the order has not yet gone before the agency’s commissioners for final approval. Company officials said the employees’ tenures ranged from eight months to 40 years, and that all employees undergo “very extensive training—not only book training, but they must also demonstrate knowledge before you can work in a unit.” The La Porte incident is the worst loss of life in an industrial accident at the world’s biggest petrochemical complex since 2005, when a refinery explosion killed 15 workers in Texas City.

It’s the third fatal accident the CSB has had to investigate in the past five years—others include a welder who died in 2014 when an explosion at a facility in Buffalo, N.Y., and another worker who died when a steel hose carrying phosgene gas burst in Belle, W.Va., in 2010. Workers did not realize they were releasing the deadly gas that had built up in piping and a storage tank as they drained waste gas from other piping at the unit. It was not standard procedure for workers to wear breathing protection when draining this piping, but if they had, they would probably still be alive, said Dan Tillema, the safety board’s lead investigator. The safety board previously said inspectors found the plant had a faulty ventilation system but that even if ventilation fans had been working, the building’s design may not have protected workers from the gas being released. Terry Clawson, a TCEQ spokesman, said the agency received DuPont’s response to its request for more information on the corrective action plan on Sept. 11, and is working on an updated plan.

DuPont has been cited for safety violations at both units by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which also investigated the accident and labeled DuPont a “severe violator” as a result of its findings.

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