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Employee dies after exposure to dangerous chemical

Author : Amy Hollamby

25 January 2010

A worker exposed to a dangerous chemical at DuPont's Belle plant in West Virginia has died. Carl Fish died on the 24th January after being treated at Charleston Area Medical Centre for exposure to the poisonous chemical phosgene. The chemical was used in World War I to "choke" soldiers on the battlefield.


A braided steel hose connected to a one-ton capacity phosgene tank suddenly ruptured, releasing phosgene into the air. The hose was not in service when the leak occurred, but did contain a small amount of phosgene from an earlier use.

Delayed effects from exposure take about 48 hours to occur. These include breathing difficulties, coughing up white to pink-tinged fluid (pulmonary oedema), low blood pressure and possible heart failure. These symptoms may occur even if the person feels better or appears well following removal from exposure. People who have been exposed to phosgene should be monitored for 48 hours.

There is no excuse for this kind of incident. From the series of incidents that have occurred this week as well as the numerous other reports recently that safety may not be a priority at the Dupont plant in Belle.

The phosgene 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 sulophur 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.

It is unknown how the leak went unnoticed, although it seems possible that the monitoring equipment in this area of the plant may not have been functioning properly at the time.

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and OSHA are both considering a safety review of the plant in light of these leaks.

Member William E. Wright from the CSB 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.

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