Lethal Chemical Release Cause of La Porte Plant Accident
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board stated that the incident would not have happened if the company had not blatantly ignored a series of problems and made more of an effort to develop stronger safeguards to deal with them.
Description of the DuPont Accident
According to the Houston Chronicle, the incident occurred at the Sabine River Works DuPont La Porte Plant around 4:00 a.m.
The substance involved in the deadly leak was identified as methyl mercaptan, a highly regulated hazardous chemical. The methyl mercaptan had been released from a failed valve inside an operations building.
Odors of the chemical were reportedly discernible many miles from the plant. The gas release escaped from the building, and subsequently went into adjacent communities. Residents started complaining afterwards about the toxic fumes.
Emergency management officials said it was clear that the response to the leak was inadequate and slow, especially given the scope of the disaster. The site had been plagued with recurring maintenance problems, and workers lacked adequate access to breathing equipment.
The victims were: Wade Baker, 60; brothers Gilbert and Robert Tisnado, 48 and 39; and Crystle Wise, 53. OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board launched an immediate investigation into the incident.
DuPont's Safety Practices Questioned and Possible Solutions
DuPont is recognized as a leader in the chemical industry when it comes to industrial safety. When fatalities start occurring in such a highly regarded company, questions arise about the current state of process safety.
Texas continues to experience a large number of fatalities, chemical releases, fires and explosions. The incident in La Porte is the latest in a deadly string of incidents and is the worst such loss of life in an industrial accident since 2005.
Fatal industrial incidents will continue to occur unless occupational and process safety regulations are made more effective. Recent hazardous chemical releases and explosions have demonstrated that the industry's process safety performance is severely lacking.
Some suggestions to prevent future accidents include: federal legislation and/or Presidential Executive orders to empower workers and worker committees to shut down unsafe operations and mandate frequent federal inspections of each site. Process safety begins with enforcement of generally accepted good engineering practices in the design, training, operation, maintenance and inspection of process equipment.