Sustained Outrage

DuPont CEO urges Obama to soften U.S. regulations

When I first saw the press release two weeks ago from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I have to admit I didn’t pay that much attention to it:

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and state and federal Departments of Justice have entered into a consent decree with the DuPont Corp. in which the company has agreed to pay a penalty of $500,000 for numerous violations of the DuPont Edge Moor plant site’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and other state and federal regulations.

Many of the violations at the facility – which makes a white pigment from titanium used in the print and publishing industries – were pollutant discharges into the Delaware River that occurred between 2005 and 2011. All of the violations, including state and federal Clean Water Act noncompliance, are covered in the consent decree signed with DNREC and EPA. DNREC first issued a notice of violation to DuPont in April 2008 for numerous effluent discharges that exceeded permit limits and for violations of other general NPDES permit conditions that were not met.

But since then, several alert readers have passed on to me a link to this Philadelphia Inquirer piece on the situation. The story explains:

The fine and settlement comes as DuPont, which earned $3 billion in profits last year, is weighing whether to expand the Edge Moor plant or rival works in the southern U.S. and Asia. CEO Ellen Kullman (above) has met with President Obama, urging less cumbersome regulations and lower taxes to make it more attractive for her company to site more factories and jobs in the U.S. The company also says it is committed to clean water and to obeying the law.


CSB was ‘alarmed’ by series of DuPont incidents

We broke the story on Tuesday that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board had finalized its report on the three January 2010 incidents — including a fatal phosgene leak — at the DuPont Co. chemical plant in Belle, W.Va.

The board has now released that final report, and issued a press release in which board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said:

Our final report shows in detail how a series of preventable safety shortcomings — including failure to maintain the mechanical integrity of a critical phosgene hose — led to the accidents. That this happened at a company with DuPont’s reputation for safety should indicate the need for every chemical plant to redouble their efforts to analyze potential hazards and take steps to prevent tragedy.

DuPont has had a stated focus on accident prevention since its early days. Over the years, DuPont management worked to drive the injury rate down to zero through improved safety practices.

DuPont became recognized across industry as a safety innovator and leader. We at the CSB were therefore quite surprised and alarmed to learn that the DuPont Belle plant had not just one but three accidents that occurred over a 33-hour period in January 2010.

Continue reading…

CSB: Phosgene leak escaped DuPont plant

Folks who follow these things know that one of the first things that Kanawha Valley chemical companies like to say when they have a leak is something along these lines:  “No material left the plant” … It’s as if they want us to think they’ve built invisible protective bubbles around their fencelines.

Thanks to the folks at the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, we have another concrete example of how these sorts of statements are mostly nonsense.

CSB officials used computer modeling and data from DuPont’s fenceline monitors to estimate the extent of the plume from the January 2010 phosgene leak that killed longtime plant worker Danny Fish.

Interestingly, CSB investigators didn’t really get into all of this in the press release the agency issued — so many members of the media probably missed this important aspect of the story.  And it wasn’t made all that clear in the body of the CSB’s report either. That section (see page 60 of the report) said:

Two of the three fence line analyzers recorded a maximum concentration of 0.15 and 0.27 ppm phosgene, indicating that phosgene concentrations had traveled offsite toward the Kanawha River. However, no member of the public reported phosgene exposure symptoms the day of the incident nor did the U.S. Coast Guard restrict river traffic or conduct air monitoring as it had a day prior as a result of the methyl chloride release.

Members of the media or the public had to read all the way into Appendix D (starting on page 124 of a 172-page report) to get the full story on what the CSB had learned about the extent of the potential phosgene plume from this leak:

The fence line monitors south and southwest of the phosgene shed recorded phosgene concentrations between 0 and 0.27 ppm, suggesting phosgene vapor may have traveled south of the DuPont Belle plant fence line toward the river. The ALOHA threat-zone overlay in Figure 19 (see above) displays a model of the worst-case release conditions indicating IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) concentrations of phosgene could have been present on the Kanawha River shortly after the release and lower concentrations could have traveled across the river. There were no reports of odors or exposure symptoms from the community on the afternoon of the phosgene release incident.

In fact, the plume map buried on page 128 of the CSB report indicates that levels across the river from the DuPont plant reached 0.2 parts per million, which is equal to the ERPG-2 concentration — the level which no one should be exposed to for more than an hour if they want to avoid potentially irreversible health impacts.

Now, honestly, it took about three follow-up questions to get CSB investigators to make all this a little clearer to media members at yesterday’s press conference. I was a little baffled as to why the CSB — an agency whose reports are usually far easier for the public to understand than any other government department I cover — didn’t want to make this all more simple for the people of the Kanawha Valley.

But at least the CSB is doing the modeling, just as they did in their investigation of the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va.

As we reported in today’s Gazette, DuPont doesn’t like the CSB’s modeling, but he company hasn’t bothered to do its own computer study to see what sort of plume it believes might have occurred back in January 2010 …

More from the CSB’s DuPont press conference

I’m just back from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s press conference on its report on the three January 2010 incidents at the DuPont Co. chemical plant in Belle, W.Va.

We’ve got a basic news story online here, a follow-up blog post about DuPont rejecting technologies that might have made its phosgene unit much safer (also see the Center for Public Integrity story on this by the great Jim Morris), and we’ve also posted DuPont’s prepared statement responding to the CSB report.

Above, I’ve embedded a CSB video animation that depicts how agency investigators believe the phosgene leak that killed longtime DuPont worker Danny Fish happened.

In a CSB news release, board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said today:

DuPont became recognized across industry as a safety innovator and leader. We at the CSB were therefore quite surprised and alarmed to learn that DuPont had not just one but three accidents that occurred over a 33-hour period in January 2010.

And board member and former chairman John Bresland (who at one time worked for DuPont) said:

These kinds of findings would cause us great concern in any chemical plant – but particularly in DuPont with its historically strong work and safety culture. In light of this, I would hope that DuPont officials are examining the safety culture company-wide.

Continue reading…

Here’s a statement issued by DuPont in response to today’s report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board:

We understand that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has issued a draft of its investigation report on the January, 2010 incidents at the Belle site to seek public comment. We have cooperated fully with the CSB throughout its investigation. In June 2010, DuPont completed its own investigation of the incidents and provided those investigation reports to OSHA, the EPA, the CSB and other state and federal agencies. Since then, we have implemented all the recommendations from our investigations for the facilities that have returned to service. Examples of these steps already implemented at the Belle plant include:

— Performing an intensive operations safety review at each unit in addition to the normal safety processes and programs.

— Strengthening the process hazards review system to expand and improve employee participation.

— Improving our maintenance and inspection system for hoses.

— Identifying and eliminating settings in the computerized maintenance system that could prevent maintenance work orders from being timely generated.

— Initiating a new system for alarm management.

In addition, two of the processing units involved in the January 2010 incidents have been taken out of service over the past 18 months for business reasons. The Spent Acid Recovery (SAR) Unit has been permanently shut down and is being dismantled as part of a pre-existing business plan. The phosgene processing facility within the Small Lots Manufacturing (SLM) Unit has not operated since the January 2010 incidents. All phosgene has been removed from the plant.

The Belle plant regularly engages in overlapping processes and programs to identify any safety or environmental issue and correct it, using process hazard analyses, management of change, equipment reliability programs, multiple layers of internal auditing, and hazardous materials management programs. These programs did not work as they were designed and expected to work, resulting in the January 2010 incidents. Since the conclusion of our internal investigations we have been working to strengthen these systems to ensure we prevent similar incidents in the future.

Based on our initial review of the CSB report, it appears they have made a number of recommendations that are aligned with the recommendations from DuPont’s internal investigation reports. After we have had time for careful review of the draft report, we will provide comments to the CSB.

DuPont is committed to the long-term operation of the Belle plant. We are hiring new employees, making capital investments in the site, and continuing to be actively involved in the local community.

Safety is a core value at DuPont and is our most important priority. Our goal is zero — meaning we believe all incidents and injuries are preventable. We are fully committed to being a good neighbor and operating our facilities safely and in full compliance with all safety, health and environmental requirements.

Gazette photo by Chris Dorst

We’ve just posted on the Gazette’s website a story about the scathing report being released this morning by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board about its investigation into the string of accidents at the DuPont Co. chemical plant in Belle in January 2010.

You can read the CSB’s draft report here, and we’ll have more on this story throughout the day and in tomorrow’s print edition.

Regular readers will recall that the most serious of the January 2010 incidents was the Jan. 23 leak of poisonous phosgene that claimed the life of longtime plant employee Danny Fish.

During its investigation, the CSB turned up some fascinating documents that indicate that DuPont officials declined to implement a much safer alternative for the phosgene facilities at the Belle plant.

The safest alternative — enclosing the phosgene plant in fully contained building with its own air scrubber — could have been done at an affordable cost — about $2 million, according to the documents the CSB uncovered.

But, DuPont officials dropped the idea out of concerns that the project would “set a precedent for all highly toxic material activities.”

The internal documents are included as an appendix to the CSB report. And it’s worth checking out this story from this morning’s Gazette, about the lack of progress on the CSB’s previous recommendation for creation of a local chemical plant accident prevention program.

CSB to release DuPont report next week

Finally ending their infighting and delays, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has voted to release its investigation of the January 2010 incidents — including one fatal phosgene leak — at DuPont Co.’s Belle, W.Va.

CSB spokeswoman Hillary Cohen confirmed to me via email message that board members voted 5-0 last week to release the report, without a public meeting but with a public comment period.

The report is set to be released during a press conference in Charleston July 7.

Stay tuned …


Board officials have not yet made records about this vote available to the public, and haven’t given them to me as I requested … but I obtained them from another source and I’m posting them here.  As you can see, there’s still a lot of conflict among board members on this issue.

CSB again votes down release of DuPont report

After last week’s sulfuric acid leak at the DuPont Co. chemical plant in Belle, W.Va., you would think the U.S. Chemical Safety Board would move quickly to get its report on the facility out to the public … But you would be wrong.

CSB officials revealed late today that board members have again voted down plans proposed by chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso to hold a public meeting to release the report.

Apparently, other board members had serious problems with the proposed meeting rules suggested by the chairman, specifically the notion that board members could not use the meeting to bring up or discussion anything except the DuPont report.

You can read their comments on the proposal here, but for example, former board Chairman John Bresland called the meeting rules proposal “a heavy handed attempt by the Chairman to deny the other four board members the right to speak their mind on issues of concern to them.”

It’s been 16 months since a phosgene leak at the DuPont Co. chemical plant in Belle, W.Va., claimed the life of longtime plant worker Danny Fish back in January 2010.

So where is the U.S. Chemical Safety Board report explaining to the public what went wrong at the Belle plant that day?

I keep wondering that, but I don’t get many answers from our friends at the Chemical Safety Board.

Months ago, I was repeatedly told that the board was planning a public meeting in early April to release its report here in the Kanawha Valley, so residents, workers and company officials would have a chance to discuss it with the board staff and board members.

Well, early April came and went. And now it’s almost June.

In the meantime, the board had deployed to other incidents in other places — a fatal fire at a calcium carbide plant in Louisville, Ky., a fatal fire at Hoeganaes Corporation in Gallatin, Tennessee, and an explosion at a fireworks storage facility in Hawaii. There’s no question that the CSB’s list of ongoing investigations is long and keeps growing.

So when will we — the public — get to see a report on DuPont’s fatal phosgene leak (not to mention the other string of dangerous accidents at the Belle facility)?

Well, that’s not clear. But we do know that DuPont has seen the report. So have the government agencies — such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — to whom the CSB makes recommendations in its report. That’s right — the report is done. It’s been done for a while, according to documents posted on the CSB website.

The holdup now is an internal dispute among board members about exactly how they will let the rest of us in on what their staff found when they investigated the Belle plant.

Continue reading…

New CSB video focuses on Bayer plant

Here’s a new video issued today by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board: