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Inspectioneering Journal

Board Votes to Initiate Investigation on Accidents at DuPont Chemical Facility in Belle, West Virginia Braided Hose Rupture

This article appears in the January/February 2010 issue of Inspectioneering Journal

Washington, DC, January 25, 2010 - The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) today voted to initiate an investigation of recent accidents at the DuPont chemical complex in Belle, West Virginia, following a release of highly toxic phosgene on Saturday that fatally injured a veteran operator. 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. An operator who was exposed to the chemical was transported to the hospital, where he died the following day.

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 sulfur dioxide from a spent sulfuric 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." Mr. Wright cautioned that the new case would likely delay efforts to complete other investigations that are being conducted by the 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.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.

Visit our website, www.csb.gov.

For more information, contact Director of Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Horowitz, (202) 261-7613, cell (202) 441-6074, or Public Affairs Specialist Hillary Cohen, (202) 261-3601, cell (202) 446-8094.


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