US cites DuPont over gas leak that killed 4 workers

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LA PORTE, Texas (AP) — Federal work-safety agents cited DuPont on Thursday for 11 safety violations relating to a toxic gas leak last November that killed four workers at a Houston-area plant.

In issuing the citations, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the four dead workers "would be alive today" had DuPont "taken steps to protect them" at its chemical plant in La Porte. In a statement, the agency said it had "identified scores of safety upgrades the company must undertake to prevent future accidents" at the plant.

OSHA cited DuPont for one repeat violation, nine serious violations and one "other than serious" violations, all carrying fines totaling $99,000.

"Four people lost their lives and their families lost loved ones because DuPont did not have proper safety procedures in place," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant Labor secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. "Had the company assessed the dangers involved, or trained their employees on what to do if the ventilation system stopped working, they might have had a chance."

In February, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said its investigation found that the leak could be traced to the design of a network of pipes and valves inside the facility.

The DuPont La Porte works had a faulty ventilation system that exposed workers to a highly toxic and flammable chemical typically used in insecticides, the board found. The plant's vents system had several links to the supply line for the chemical, methyl mercaptan.

Liquid routinely built up inside the building's vents due to the system's flawed design, requiring workers to drain the system manually and potentially exposing them to whatever chemicals had accumulated inside, the board said.

Even if ventilation system fans had been working, the building's design may not have protected workers from the chemical being released into the air, CSB Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said.

DuPont said more than 23,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan were released during the Nov. 15 accident. At dangerous levels of exposure, the gas depresses the central nervous system and affects the respiratory center, producing death by respiratory paralysis, according to the OSHA statement.

The company has 15 business days to comply or contest the findings.

Company spokesman Aaron Woods said in a statement that DuPont was reviewing the findings and that it "has taken a series of actions to prevent this from ever happening again."

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