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Chemical leak at DuPont plant in Texas kills four

17 November 2014

Workers investigating a valve leak at the DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, were overcome by a poisonous gas and four were confirmed dead on November 15. A fifth worker was hospitalised and later released. DuPont said the leak posed no danger to the community outside the plant, and that it is cooperating with authorities while conducting its own investigation.

DuPont company spokesman Aaron Woods said a valve failed on a container of methyl mercaptan, which is thought to be the chemical responsible for the fatalities.

Winds carried a strong odour from the plant as far as Houston, 25 miles away. Woods said the odour was not hazardous, and that air quality tests in the area came back normal and local emergency officials decided not to issue a shelter-in-place order to the general public.

The US Chemical Safety Board has dispatched a team to analyse the causes of the accident, which killed an unusually high number of people for an incident that did not involve a fire or explosion.

DuPont’s 600-acre plant in La Porte makes pesticides and plastics, employs more than 450 and is situated on the banks of the Houston Ship Channel. The US Environmental Protection Agency brought formal enforcement actions for hazardous waste management and air emissions standard  violations at the site in 2012 and 2014, resulting in penalties totaling $117,375.

According to the Washington Post, DuPont last month disclosed that it was continuing discussions with the EPA and the Justice Department related to waste-water treatment, hazardous-waste management and air emissions at the La Porte site. The talks began three years ago after a 2008 EPA inspection.

"There are no words to fully express the loss we feel or the concern and sympathy we extend to the families of the employees and their co-workers," plant manager Randall Clements said in a statement.

“We are cooperating with local, state and federal authorities as they conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. As part of that investigation, we are conducting our own top-to-bottom review of this incident and we will share what we learn with the relevant authorities.”

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