Report says hose failure, emergency processes caused fatal accident

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Jul 07, 2011 in Wrongful Death

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has issued a preliminary report of the January 23, 2010 phosgene release at DuPont's Belle plant. The board agrees with the manufacturer's internal investigation that a braided steel hose connected to two phosgene tanks ruptured and ultimately caused the death of a plant employee.

The report details a number of safety issues at the Kanawha River facility. The board also provides a chronology of events leading up to the worker's death that day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phosgene is a chemical that is not found in nature. Nowadays, it is manufactured for use in industrial processes, including production of plastics and pesticides. During World War I, the gas was used as a weapon. The gas was a more effective killing agent because it didn't cause gasping, as chlorine gas did. Nor does phosgene have a telltale "chemical" odor; the smell has been likened to moldy hay.

Because exposure doesn't cause choking, more of the gas enters the lungs. A victim can inhale a lethal dose in seconds, but death does not come quickly. It can take up to 48 hours for a victim to die.

That, in fact, is what happened to the victim of the Belle plant accident. When the hose ruptured, about two pounds of the gas escaped. The long-time plant employee received a lethal dose "in less than a tenth of a second," the safety board says.

In our next post, we will go into more detail about the specific criticisms of the DuPont plant and other exposures the safety board turned up.

Source: Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, "Safety board criticizes DuPont for fatal phosgene release," George Hohmann, 07/blog/2011

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