DuPont Reaches Settlement Over Fatal Chemical Plant Leak – DTN

DuPont reached a settlement with EPA, the United States Department of Justice and the state of Texas in connection to a November 2014 fatal chemical plant leak at the company’s facility in La Porte, Texas.

In the settlement announced on Monday, DuPont will pay about $3.2 million in civil penalties to resolve alleged hazardous waste, air, and water violations at the plant that manufactured herbicides, pesticides and insecticides.

The EPA announced in a news release the company had already paid $3.1 million in civil penalties in 2018 for violating the agency’s chemical accident prevention program. The settlement announced Monday is an additional $3.2 million.

DuPont did not respond to DTN’s request for comment.

Four employees at the plant died after exposure to methyl mercaptan while responding to a valve leak at the plant.

Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas that can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma or death. DuPont used the chemical to manufacture ag chemicals. The chemical is used to give natural gas its odor.

The settlement resolves alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act at the plant east of Houston.

The alleged RCRA violations include failure to make hazardous waste determinations, treatment, storage or disposal of hazardous waste without a permit and failure to meet land disposal restrictions.

Alleged CWA violations include failure to fully implement the plant’s oil spill prevention plan and CAA violations include failure to comply with applicable emissions standards at its biological water treatment unit.

DuPont closed the plant in 2016 in response to market conditions but continues to operate a wastewater treatment system and is required to monitor for soil, sediment and groundwater contamination at the site.

The consent decree was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston on July 9, 2020.

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In a June 2019 report, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board found the accident occurred as a result of faulty engineering at the facility.

“The CSB investigation viewed the chain of implementation failures as starting with the flawed engineering design of the $20 million nitrogen oxides reduced scrubbed incinerator, a capital project implemented in 2011,” the CSB concluded.

The CSB said in its report there were several lessons to be learned by the 2014 incident.

The board concluded, “The emergency response efforts at the DuPont La Porte facility during the toxic chemical release were disorganized and placed at risk operators, emergency responders, and potentially the public. Chemical plants need a robust emergency response program to mitigate emergencies and to protect the health of workers, emergency responders and the public.”

The CSB said although DuPont created its own safety management system, “over the course of five years, despite implementing its corporate process safety management system, DuPont experienced three major process safety incidents.” The board concluded the process in place was unable to identify the weaknesses at the La Porte plant.

“The CSB identified significant process safety deficiencies at the DuPont La Porte site that contributed to the incident,” the CSB said in its report.

“DuPont’s corporate process safety management system did not identify, prevent, or mitigate these deficiencies. A company must effectively implement a process safety management system and its corresponding programs to reap the accompanying process safety benefits.”

In addition, CSB said an employee incentive program at the plant “may have disincentivized workers from reporting injuries, incidents, and ‘near misses.’ Ensuring that employees can report injuries or incidents in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act and OSHA regulations, without fear of discrimination, retaliation or other adverse consequence is central to protecting worker safety and health, and aiding accident prevention.”

EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine said in a news release the settlement will ensure the company will conduct “proper management of wastes” as well as “cleanup of contamination from past operations.”

Read the consent decree here.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

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