One worker died after exposure to phosgene, a toxic gas released due to failure to comply with industry accident prevention procedures, said the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
The main use of phosgene is in the manufacture of other chemicals such as plastics, pesticides, dyes and herbicides, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Operators discovered that more than 2,000 pounds of methyl chloride had leaked into the atmosphere and employees failed to respond to alarms triggered by the release in January 2010, at a chemical manufacturing plant in Belle, West Virginia.
On January 23, workers discovered a leak in a pipe containing the toxic gas oleum. Later that day, a hose containing phosgene ruptured resulting in the fatality of a worker exposed.
EPA order and DuPont action
DuPont estimates that it has spent $6.8m to comply with an administrative order issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2010 to undertake corrective measures.
Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division, said failing to follow laws meant to prevent accidents can have fatal consequences.
“Today’s settlement holds DuPont accountable for its failure to prevent hazardous releases and requires improvements to its risk management operations and emergency response systems that could prevent future tragedies and damage to the environment.”
DuPont will enhance risk management operating procedures to improve its process of responding to alarms triggered by releases of hazardous substances.
It will develop an enhanced operating procedure to improve management of change process, which ensures that safety, health and environmental risks are controlled when changes are made to processes.
The firm will improve procedures so federal, state, and local responders are notified of emergency releases, and will conduct training exercises to prepare employees to make such notifications.
DuPont reaction and further spending
A DuPont statement said: "We remain committed to meeting all regulatory requirements and operating at the highest standards for protection of our employees, contractors, community and the environment.”
DuPont estimates that it will spend almost $2.3m to complete the required improvements.
Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance Assurance at EPA, said the settlement will ensure proper practices are in place to protect communities and water bodies.
“Producing toxic and hazardous substances can be dangerous, and requires complying with environmental and safety laws.”