Phosgene leak at DuPont facility leads to temporary closure

Industrial Accidents

Jan25, 2010- The latest in a string of accidents and safety issues at DuPont’s Belle, W.Va facility was a phosgene leak that resulted in a fatal accident. A braided steel hose connected to a  phosgene tank suddenly ruptured, releasing phosgene into the air rsulting in one fatality. Phosgene is one of the deadliest chemicals ever and special precautions are necessary for its handling.

Prior to this latest incident were two other accidents at the same plant. One was an ongoing release of chloromethane from the plant’s Hexazinone unit, which went undetected for several days, and a release of sulfur dioxide from a spent sulfuric acid unit. Following this series of unfortunate events the management has closed down the facility entirely, giving “safety checks” as the reason behind the closure.

Meanwhile the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has taken a dim view of these events and announced an investigation. Speaking for the three-member board, Member William E. Wright 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.”  Mr. Wright cautioned that the new case would likely delay efforts to complete other investigations that are being conducted by same investigative team, including those at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute, West Virginia, and an Ohio environmental services company.  Including DuPont, the CSB has 17 open investigations, the largest number in its 11-year history.

In voting to approve the investigation, the Board noted that the CSB was aware of six other releases from the plant since December 2006.  The DuPont Belle complex is a large facility that is regulated under the EPA Risk Management Program and the OSHA Process Safety Management standard because of the volume and hazards of the materials it handles and the potential risk to workers and the community.

CSB investigator Johnnie Banks will lead the four-member team which is expected at the site on Tuesday.