In West Virginia, a large DuPont chemical plant has shut down after one of its employees, one Carl Fish aged 58, was killed by a leak. There have been three leaks recently and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), is investigating them. The CSB is an advisory board for industry, labor, and regulators such as OSHA.
Three Dangerous Leaks
This DuPont plant was first built after World War I to produce ammonia but now produces many other products used in industry. For reasons still unknown:
- About 1,900 pounds of the hazardous chemical methyl chloride leaked for five days before anybody noticed
- About 20 pounds of sulfuric acid leaked from the plant’s spent acid recovery process
- Phosgene leaked last Saturday when a steel hose from a one-ton phosgene tank ruptured.
Carl Fish was a member of the plant’s Site Emergency Response team and had worked for 32 years at this plant. Apparently he was working to stop the leak but became unable to breathe normally. He was taken to a Charleston hospital and died the following day.
What is Phosgene?
Phosgene is a chemical compound (COCl2) and is a colorless gas with a faint flowery odor. It became notorious during World War I when it was used as a chemical weapon. It kills by damaging the respiratory system. It was a more effective weapon than chlorine gas, which was first used, because it does not cause much immediate coughing and therefore more was inhaled. It had a delayed effect and affected soldiers appeared to be healthy, for a day or perhaps two, after inhaling it.
Currently, it is used in making plastics and pesticides, although it can also be generated naturally when chlorinated compounds break down or are burned.
- Chlorine is a very commonly used chemical element. For example, it is part of table salt, put in laundry detergents and bleaches, used in toothpastes and mouthwashes to whiten teeth, and used in swimming pools and hot tubs to sanitize them.
Plant Closed for Investigations
A plant spokesman, Roger Hess, stated that the plant is temporarily closed until investigations are complete and reviews are done of operating and safety procedures. There is no fixed date when the plant will re-open.
An OSHA spokeswoman has reported that her agency has six months to finish its investigation and release its findings. The CSB is expected to release some of their investigation findings today at a 2:00 pm EST news conference.
Dangerous Substances Surround Us
In this day and age, we live in a sea of substances that are potentially harmful. The process of discovering and proving their harmfulness takes many years, even decades, assuming that anyone suspects harm in the first place.
An example is the near-100-year use in industry of asbestos, a mineral with microscopic fibers that defy destruction. They become airborne, are breathed in, and become permanently lodged in the lungs, eventually causing cancer. We are currently seeing increasing numbers of mesothelioma cases in people who once worked around asbestos with no protection.
Chemicals and their myriad unknown interactions can cause many types of injury. More research is needed on thousands of products and their ingredients and additives. If you have been harmed by a defective product and would like to know more about how a lawsuit could help, please see our page on Starting a Product Liability Lawsuit.
Please contact our law office today if you would like a free consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys.