Feds Propose $121K Fine for Pennsylvania Chemical Company

April 15, 2009

Federal workplace safety officials proposed fining a chemical company $121,500 for a toxic leak that led to an acid cloud and forced hundreds of western Pennsylvania residents to evacuate.

Indspec Chemical Corp. committed 27 serious safety violations when oleum leaked at its plant in Petrolia on Oct. 11, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said.

About 3,300 pounds of oleum leaked when a transfer tank overflowed because its internal pumps were connected to an electrical outlet that was not equipped with an automatic shut-off, said OSHA spokeswoman Leni Fortson. The resulting sulfuric acid cloud forced 2,500 people from their homes for a day.

Indspec has 15 business days to comply with or contest the proposed fines, or request a conference with local OSHA officials.

Plant manager Dave Dorko said the company plans to request an informal conference with OSHA’s Pittsburgh director. That meeting could result in reduced fines or some other type of settlement, and would not preclude Indspec from challenging the fines if OSHA continues to request them.

“We’re very hopeful we can clarify any issues we have with OSHA and get this issue behind us,” Dorko said.

Dorko said Indspec fired the worker who hooked up the transfer tank to the wrong electrical outlet. Workers are trained to use outlets that afford overflow protection, he said.

The plant, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, has 260 workers and makes resorcinol, an industrial adhesive used to manufacture tires. Oleum is used in the making of resorcinol. When it leaks, it reacts with water vapor in the air to create a toxic cloud of sulfuric acid gas, Dorko said.

The oleum that leaked is roughly equal what is contained in five 55-gallon drums, he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection also investigated the leak. The department is close to settling with the company on $38,000 in state fines for violating laws pertaining to chemical storage tanks and air pollution, said agency spokeswoman Freda Tarbell.

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