UpdateUS chem safety board to investigate DuPont plant leaks

25 January 2010 22:23  [Source: ICIS news]

(adds updates throughout)

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) voted on Monday to launch an investigation into the three weekend accidents – including a fatality - at DuPont’s glycolic acid plant in Belle, West Virginia.

A worker died during the weekend from phosgene exposure at the plant, and three leaks in two days led the company to shut down most of its units.

DuPont officials told the CSB that a braided steel hose connected to a one-ton capacity phosgene tank suddenly ruptured on Saturday, releasing phosgene into the air and sending operator Carl Fish to the hospital. He died on Sunday evening. Fish had worked with DuPont for 32 years and was part of the site's emergency response team, the company said.

The phosgene death followed an ongoing release of chloromethane from the plant’s hexazinone unit, which went undetected for days, the CSB reported. In addition, sulphur dioxide was released from a spent sulphuric acid unit, the board said.

“The board is concerned by these releases, which had tragic consequences, and will proceed with an investigation to understand why these unfortunate events occurred,” said board member William Wright.

That has resulted in the Belle plant being put on a "voluntary safety stand-down” since Saturday. Production would be halted in "essentially all units" until inspectors deem them safe, DuPont spokesman Nate Pepper said. Reports indicated the shutdown could last two weeks, but Pepper said the company had no set timeline.

"Our only concern is making certain the site is safe," Pepper said.

The CSB said it was aware of six other releases from the plant since December 2006.

The CSB noted that the investigation would likely delay efforts to complete other probes, including a case on the 2008 explosion at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute, West Virginia. The board’s 17 open investigations is the largest number in its 11-year history, CSB said.

On its website, DuPont describes the Belle facility as the world’s largest glycolic acid plant. Glycolic acid is used in plastics manufacturing, home and personal care products, crop protection chemicals, automotive products and industrial manufacturing.

The facility is owned by Lucite but operated by DuPont. Last year, DuPont and Lucite had to pay a $2m (€1.42m) civil penalty to resolve Clean Air Act violations at a sulphuric acid unit of the plant, along with agreeing to shut down the unit by 1 April.

($1 = €0.71)

For more on DuPont visit ICIS company intelligence
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By: Ben DuBose
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