Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Texas Chemical Plant Where 4 Died Cited for Dozens of Safety Violations

Republicans will be happy to see the lack of regulation there.

By Mike Brunker
Nov. 19, 2014

The Texas chemical plant where four workers died over the weekend after a leak of a toxic chemical used in insecticides has been cited dozens of times by state and federal regulators since 2007 -- the last time federal inspectors visited the plant.

The workers at the DuPont plant in La Porte, about 30 miles southeast of Houston, died early Saturday after an estimated 100 pounds of methyl mercaptan leaked because of a faulty valve, company representatives said. A fifth worker was hospitalized but is expected to recover, the company said.

Methyl mercaptan is a main component of the popular insecticide Lannate, and exposure to even small amounts of the chemical can be fatal.

State records show that the plant in La Porte has been cited for violating state law more than two dozen times by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since Sept. 1, 2009. Most of the violations appear to be relatively minor record-keeping and signage infractions, but on at least four occasions the plant was cited for failing to prevent hazardous emissions from spewing into the air.

One of those was a seven-hour, six-minute “event” on Oct. 14, 2009, when the plant emitted 3,700 pounds of methylene choride -– a “hazardous air pollutant” used in the manufacture of Lannate.

The Texas Tribune reported Monday that DuPont was initially fined about $10,300 for failing to prevent the release and for reporting the incident five days late. The company ultimately paid $8,269, with the rest deferred "upon timely and satisfactory compliance," records show.

Inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also cited the plant for four “serious” safety violations when they last inspected it on Jan. 25, 2007. The company was ultimately fined a total of $3,400 for two other violations of standards for safe management of highly hazardous chemicals. The other two violations were informally settled.

The plant is also out of compliance with hazardous waste management and air emissions standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to records reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. The agency brought formal enforcement actions against it for violations in 2012 and 2014, resulting in $117,375 in penalties, it said.


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