A DuPont and Co pesticide plant where four people died in a gas leak in November had been cited for emissions violations by a state agency on several occasions before the accident. The Houston Chronicle cited public records it obtained as showing that DuPont reported regular malfunctions with a multimillion-dollar exhaust and ventilation system inside its La Porte, Texas, pesticide plant that exposed workers to potentially dangerous fumes well before the deadly accident. A story appeared in the newspaper that revealed the damaging information.
Despite reports made to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2009 and 2010 regarding the faulty equipment, there was no investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According to written congressional committee testimony by U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso, which was obtained by the paper, maintenance work at the facility was done without the use of respirators.
The four workers who died were “accidentally asphyxiated by chemicals,” the local coroner’s office said in November in a finding that suggested the victims were not wearing full safety equipment. It was reported that the workers were overcome by methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to give natural gas its rotten-egg smell and for making insecticides and plastics. Families of the victims have filed lawsuits against DuPont.
It appears that the plant, located in a cluster of refineries and chemical plants 25 miles from downtown Houston, had a history of environmental infractions. But interestingly, it had no record of safety violations, according to information available from OSHA and the Chemical Safety Board. Accidents at four other DuPont facilities have been investigated by the Board. Those include a 2010 phosgene release at a plant in Belle, W. Va., that killed one person and an accident that same year at a facility outside of Buffalo, N.Y., that killed a worker.
Sources: Insurance Journal and The Houston Chronicle
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