The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is opening an investigation of recent accidents at the DuPont chemical complex in Belle, West Virginia, following a release of highly toxic phosgene that fatally injured a veteran operator at the chemical plant. The plant is on a 600-acre site in the city of Belle and employs about 400 workers with an additional 250 contractors.
DuPont officials told the CSB that a braided steel hose connected to a one-ton capacity phosgene tank suddenly ruptured, releasing phosgene into the air. The deceased operator was a 32-year employee of DuPont. The worker died the following day from the poisonous gas. The CSB now has 17 open investigations, the largest number in its 11-year history.
The phosgene release followed two other air releases at the same plant in the same week. For example, Dupont’s released about 1,900 pounds of methyl chloride into the air before the company finally reported it five days after Dupont workers discovered the chemical loss at the plant. The plant announced that it would be shutting down a number of process units immediately for safety checks.
CSB is aware of six other known 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 is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
CSB will look all aspects of Dupont’s chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA