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DUPONT FATALITY PROBE TO FOCUS ON RUPTURED PHOSGENE HOSE


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Page: 1C
Byline: KEN WARD JR. STAFF WRITER

Chemical safety experts will be looking closely at a flexible hose that ruptured and fatally poisoned a worker at DuPont Co.'s Belle plant with the toxic chemical phosgene.


Carl "Danny" Fish, 58, was sprayed in the face with phosgene from what the U.S. Chemical Safety Board called a "braided steel hose" used to transfer the chemical from 1-ton cylinders to a pesticide production unit.


"The hose would be important evidence," said safety board spokesman Daniel Horowitz.


A five-person CSB team was at the plant Tuesday, and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection staffers were also investigating.


On Saturday, DuPont called its own "safety pause" to shut down many of the plant's manufacturing units amid a series of accidents including one 1,900-pound leak of toxic and flammable methyl chloride that went undetected by plant officials for nearly a week.


Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., expressed concern Monday that the series of incidents "suggests a severe breakdown in even the most basic safety protocol."


Roger Hess, a plant spokesman, said Tuesday that DuPont would not be answering any more questions about the leaks because they are under investigation by various agencies.


OSHA spokeswoman Leni Fortson said her agency would be reviewing all of the incidents at the plant, and not just the phosgene leak that led to Fish's death.


It is the first time that OSHA has inspected the sprawling DuPont facility since March 2005 and only the second OSHA inspection since July 1995, according to agency records.


Fortson said the plant wasn't visited more often because OSHA hasn't received formal complaints, and the facility's injury and illness rate is low enough that it was not targeted for review. Plant officials said Fish is the first worker to die of an on-the-job injury since the late 1970s.


OSHA has six months to complete its investigation and issue any citations for violations it discovers.


Horowitz said the safety board asked its investigators to complete a preliminary report within 30 days. After that the board will decide what further review to undertake.


Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he met with board officials Tuesday and urged them to do a complete review and hold a public meeting in the Kanawha Valley.


Horowitz said the safety board would review each of the incidents at the Belle plant, but would focus on the one that led to Fish's death.


John Vorderbrueggen, a board investigations supervisor, said in an e-mail response to questions that the flexible, braided steel hose involved in the leak would be examined by his agency.


"The suitability of such a device for the specific application at DuPont will be part of our investigation," Vorderbrueggen said.


Stainless-steel braided flexible hoses appear like woven threads of steel on the outside. Vorderbrueggen said they are "broadly used in industry" for a variety of materials, including flammable and toxic liquids and gases.


But Tom Dover, spokesman for Bayer CropScience's Institute plant, said his facility does not use braided flexible hoses for phosgene. "We only use solid pipe," Dover said.


Phosgene is a very useful chemical building block, but is also extremely toxic in very tiny amounts and was used as a chemical weapon in World War I. Phosgene can cause coughing and watery eyes and can lead to heart failure and to pulmonary edema, a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can be fatal.


Bayer CropScience makes its own phosgene at the Institute plant. DuPont built a unit in the late 1980s to do the same. At the time, the company wanted to reduce the dangers involved in transporting the material, and was worried that the federal government would ban phosgene shipping. That apparently never happened, and DuPont officials said this week that they now buy phosgene and have it shipped into the plant in 1-ton cylinders.


John Benedict, chief of the DEP Division of Air Quality, said the size of those cylinders and the large amounts of phosgene DuPont uses means the company has to change cylinders frequently, creating the potential for the hose to wear out or be damaged.


"Those lines are disconnected and reconnected fairly frequently," Benedict said. "There's a lot of stress on [the hose]."


Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.

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