US safety board slams DuPont for '10 W Virginia phosgene accident

07 July 2011 19:27  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US Chemical and Safety Board on Thursday criticised chemicals major DuPont for “preventable safety shortcomings” in a series of accidents that killed one worker at the company’s plant in Belle, West Virginia, last year.

CSB board member and former chairman John Bresland urged DuPont to examine its safety culture company wide.

The board said the shortcomings at the DuPont plant – including failure to maintain the mechanical integrity of a critical phosgene hose - led to a string of three serious accidents over a 33-hour period on 22-23 January 2010.

CSB investigators found that the phosgene hose that burst in front of the worker was supposed to be changed at least once a month. 

However, the hose had been in service for seven months. Furthermore, the CSB found the type of hose involved in the accident was susceptible to corrosion from phosgene. 

CSB team lead Johnnie Banks said documents showed that as far back as 1987 DuPont officials realised the hazards of using braided stainless steel hoses lined with Teflon.

An expert employed at DuPont had recommended the use of more expensive hoses lined with Monel, a strong metal alloy used in highly corrosive conditions, Banks said. However, the Monel hose was never used, he added.

The series of accidents began on 22 January 2010, when an alarm sounded leading operators to discover that 2,000 lb (907 kg) of methyl chloride, a flammable gas, had been leaking unnoticed into the atmosphere for five days, the board said.

The next morning, workers discovered a leak in a pipe carrying oleum, producing a fuming cloud of the sulphur trioxide. 

The phosgene release occurred later that day, and the exposed worker died the next day in a hospital, the CSB said in its draft report.

As part of its recommendations, the board urged DuPont to enclose all of its phosgene production and storage areas so that any releases of phosgene will be contained.

CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said the three accidents particularly concerned the board, given DuPont’s long-standing reputation for a commitment to safety. 

DuPont is recognised across chemical industry “as a safety innovator and leader”, Moure-Eraso said.

“We at the CSB were therefore quite surprised and alarmed to learn that DuPont had not just one but three accidents that occurred over a 33-hour period in January 2010,” he said.

CSB board member and former chairman John Bresland urged DuPont to examine its safety culture company wide.

“These kinds of findings would cause us great concern in any chemical plant – but particularly in DuPont with its historically strong work and safety culture,” Bresland added.

A DuPont media official said the company would issue a statement on the CSB report but had no immediate additional comment.

Further details, including the CSB’s draft report, are available on the board’s website.

For more on DuPont and other producers visit ICIS chemical intelligence

By: Stefan Baumgarten
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