Four Killed At DuPont Plant | November 24, 2014 Issue - Vol. 92 Issue 47 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 92 Issue 47 | p. 4 | News of The Week
Issue Date: November 24, 2014 | Web Date: November 20, 2014

Four Killed At DuPont Plant

Industrial Accident: Methyl mercaptan leak appears to be responsible for deaths
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Safety
Keywords: methyl mercaptain, fatal accident, Chemical Safety Board, DuPont, Texas
The workers who died were responding to a chemical leak at a DuPont plant in La Porte, Texas.
Credit: AP
Photo of a sign at DuPont plant, La Porte, Texas, where four workers were killed and one injured Nov. 15, 2014, after a presumed leak of methyl mercaptan.Photo of a sign at DuPont plant, La Porte, Texas, where four workers were killed and one injured Nov. 15, 2014, after a presumed leak of methyl mercaptan.
The workers who died were responding to a chemical leak at a DuPont plant in La Porte, Texas.
Credit: AP

Investigators from the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) are in Texas probing an apparent chemical leak that killed four workers and injured a fifth at a DuPont plant in La Porte, Texas.

The workers probably died from exposure to methyl mercaptan while responding to a valve leak around 4 AM on Nov. 15, according to DuPont. The community around the plant was not at risk, the company adds.

“Our goal in investigating this accident is to determine the root cause and make recommendations to prevent any similar accidents throughout the industry,” CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso says.

Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas that can be easily ignited, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. It is toxic and can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma, or death.

The DuPont facility, located east of Houston, uses methyl mercaptan to manufacture insecticides and fungicides, according to CSB. However, the chemical is more widely known as the additive in natural gas that gives it a distinctive rotten cabbage smell.

Methyl mercaptan was responsible for a deadly 2001 accident at an Atofina plant in Michigan. In that incident, workers died when the chemical ignited while a railcar was being unloaded, causing an explosion. The accident killed three, injured several others, and resulted in the evacuation of 2,000 local residents.

DuPont’s La Porte facility appears to have been fined previously for safety violations by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to reports from local news organizations.

CSB has conducted four previous investigations into DuPont facilities, all in 2010. One of those accidents killed a worker in Belle, W.Va., and in another, a worker died in Buffalo.

DuPont officials say they are working with local, state, and federal officials as they investigate the incident. The company says it is conducting its own “top-to-bottom review.”

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Rajendra Chirwatkar (November 21, 2014 5:59 AM)
1) Unfortunate to develop leak on methyl mercaptan gas pipeline, gas has very distinctive rotten
smell, it does work on nervous system & one stop sensing after some time & hence danger to life.

2) Auto plant shut down in such emergency & depressurising/venting of pipe line to emergency scrubber system for safe disposal & attend leak after that.

3) There is need for safety procedure to handle such emergency with full protection fresh air/ oxygen mask & a standby operators at a safe distanceon on opposite side of wind direction to risque technicians attending if need arrises.
H.S.Gopal (November 24, 2014 7:40 AM)
Surprising that DuPont known for their safety had this accident. Did they not have alarms for leakage of the gas? Did the workers not know what precautions had to be taken while handling a leak? I do not know how long this plant had been in operation. There could have been similar leaks in the past. That the accident took place in the early morning hours indicates that workers may not have been at their best attention. Very unfortunate. May DuPont publish the results of the investigations on the cause of the accident for the benefit of the chemical community?

Bangalore, India.
Robert Buntrock (December 2, 2014 4:48 PM)
MeSH is the 2nd smelliest compound known (to EtSH) and is used as an odorant in natural gas because of this and that it's bp is close to that of methane. Obviously, better safety procedures are needed in its production and handling.
Maria Ruocco (November 26, 2014 8:46 AM)
This is so tragic. Knowing DuPont's safety culture, the investigation findings will be used to comprehensively review response procedures and communicate take-away lessons with employees on how to avoid this in the future. What is troubling is that the weakness in the response protocol was not detected (or ignored? - I hope not), so that it is only after the deaths of four people that these changes will be made.

My understanding is that once completed, a full report of the investigation will be publicly available, probably through the CSB, although maybe it would be in everyone's best interest to make it easily accessible by sharing it directly with organizations such as ACS. I hope that is how this plays out. My thoughts are certainly with those who are experiencing the loss of these four employees.

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