Processing Magazine

Agencies Probe DuPont Plant’s Safety After Employee Dies

January 25, 2010
Two federal agencies are considering conducting detailed safety reviews of DuPont Co.''s Belle chemical plant following a series of incidents, including one toxic leak that went undetected by the company for nearly a week and another that left a worker hospitalized after he was sprayed with poison phosgene gas, reports the Charleston Gazette. Officials from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board were seeking more information from DuPont about the four incidents reported at DuPont''s facility near Charleston. At the same time, inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration were discussing launching a wall-to-wall review of safety issues at the Belle plant. DuPont plant officials said they were in the early stages of a "safety check" that state regulators were told would idle most of the manufacturing processes for two weeks or more. Emergency officials revealed that DuPont had reported a release of about 1,900 pounds of toxic and extremely flammable methyl chloride from a unit that makes hexazinone, an herbicide DuPont sells under the name Velpar. The leak had gone on for up to five days without being detected by plant officials. DuPont reported a release of "less than 20 pounds" of sulfuric acid from its "spent acid recovery process." An employee was also sprayed with phosgene -- a chemical building block that was used as a weapon during World War I -- that leaked from a transfer hose. DuPont said the hose was not in service when the leak occurred, "but did contain a small amount" of phosgene from an earlier use. DuPont said in a statement that the worker was hospitalized and later died from the exposure. The Belle plant once employed more than 5,000 workers, but now has a little more than 400 DuPont workers. The plant makes specialty chemical intermediates, plastic monomers and agricultural chemicals.