Sustained Outrage

DuPont Belle plant worker dies from phosgene exposure

In its media statement on Saturday, DuPont Co. downplayed the injuries to Belle plant worker Carl Fish, saying:

The employee was transported to the hospital by the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority for treatment and observation as part of the standard protocol for exposure to this material.

But Fish has died from exposure to phosgene — a valuable chemical building block, but also an incredibly toxic material — during the incident. DuPont said in a statement released this morning:

Carl “Dan” Fish of Gallagher, W.Va., passed away at Charleston Area Medical Center hospital. Dan was a 32-year DuPont employee who worked as an operator at the Belle site.  He was an integral part of the Site Emergency Response team for much of his career as well.
“We are deeply saddened that one of our Belle teammates passed away. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time,” said Bill Menke, DuPont Belle site manager. 

So far, DuPont officials have provided the public with precious few details about what happened, saying only:

On Saturday afternoon a site employee was exposed to Phosgene from a leaking transfer hose.  The hose was not in service when the leak occurred but did contain a small amount residual Phosgene from an earlier use.

Phosgene was first made in 1812 by chemist John Davy, and its name is a reference to the use of light to promote the reaction that produced it — from the Greek, phos (light) and gene (born). In World War I, phosgene was used extensively as a chemical weapon. Today it is widely used in the production of other chemicals, such as pesticides.

Kanawha Valley residents are most familiar with its use at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, where it is used in the manufacturer of another deadly chemical intermediate, methyl isocyanate, or MIC.

But phosgene can certainly give MIC a run for its money as far as being dangerous to humans. OSHA lists a work-shift exposure limit for phosgene of 0.1 parts per million and NIOSH an “immediately dangerous to life and health” number of  2 parts per million, while the similar numbers for MIC are 0.02 parts per million and 20 parts per million.

What does phosgene do to you? Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control report:

During or immediately after exposure to dangerous concentrations of phosgene, the following signs and symptoms may develop:

— Coughing

— Burning sensation in the throat and eyes

— Watery eyes

— Blurred vision

— Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

— Nausea and vomiting

— Skin contact can result in lesions similar to those from frostbite or burns

— Following exposure to high concentrations of phosgene, a person may develop fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) within 2 to 6 hours.

Exposure to phosgene may cause delayed effects that may not be apparent for up to 48 hours after exposure, even if the person feels better or appears well following removal from exposure. Therefore, people who have been exposed to phosgene should be monitored for 48 hours afterward. Delayed effects that can appear for up to 48 hours include the following:

— Difficulty breathing

— Coughing up white to pink-tinged fluid (a sign of pulmonary edema)

— Low blood pressure

— Heart failure.