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Chemical Safety Board investigates US phosgene leak

26 January 2010

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has decided to investigate the recent accidents at DuPont’s chemical complex in Belle, West Virginia, following a release of highly toxic phosgene last Saturday that fatally injured a veteran operator, Carl Fish, who died after being treated at Charleston Area Medical Centre for exposure to the poisonous chemical.

Chemical Safety Board investigates US phosgene leak
Chemical Safety Board investigates US phosgene leak

After the incident, DuPont officials told the CSB that a braided steel hose connected to a one-ton capacity phosgene tank suddenly ruptured, releasing phosgene into the air. The release followed two other accidents at the same plant this week, including an ongoing release of chloromethane from the plant’s Hexazinone unit, which went undetected for several days, and a release of sulphur dioxide from a spent sulphuric acid unit.  The plant announced over the weekend that it would be shutting down a number of process units immediately for safety checks.

Speaking for the three-member board, Member William E. Wright said: "The Board is concerned by these releases, which had tragic consequences, and will proceed with an investigation to understand why these unfortunate events occurred." Wright cautioned that the new case would likely delay efforts to complete other investigations that are being conducted by same investigative team, including those at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute, West Virginia, and an Ohio environmental services company.  Including DuPont, the CSB has 17 open investigations, the largest number in its 11-year history.

In voting to approve the investigation, the Board noted that the CSB was aware of six other releases from the plant since December 2006.  The DuPont Belle complex is a large facility that is regulated under the EPA Risk Management Program and the OSHA Process Safety Management standard because of the volume and hazards of the materials it handles and the potential risk to workers and the community.

CSB investigator Johnnie Banks will lead the four-member team which is expected at the site on Tuesday.


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