Texas Plant with Fatal Gas Leak Had Been Cited for Violations

January 15, 2015

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 reported.

The newspaper 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.

DuPont spokesman Aaron Woods would not comment on the Chronicle’s story.

“We are cooperating fully with governmental agencies who are also conducting their own investigations,” Woods said in an emailed statement.

“Investigating incidents such as these takes time and the issues often are technically complex. The results from these reviews will guide actions we take going forward,” he said.

The newspaper said that 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.

The documents used in the report were not immediately available.

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.

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 filed have lawsuits against DuPont.

The plant, located in a cluster of refineries and chemical plants 25 miles (40 km) from downtown Houston, had a history of environmental infractions.

But it had no record of safety violations, according to information available from OSHA and the Chemical Safety Board.

The CSB has said it has investigated accidents at four other DuPont facilities, including a 2010 phosgene release at a plant in Belle, West Virginia, that killed one person and an accident that same year at a facility outside of Buffalo, New York, that killed a worker.

Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Peter Cooney

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