More than a year and a half ago, two brothers worked alongside each other for more than six years at DuPont’s chemical plant in La Porte, Texas. However, a chemical leak sprung one tragic Saturday morning. One brother ran into the contaminated room with a gas mask, hoping to save his brother. Unfortunately, it was too late. Both brothers died during this chemical leak. In total, four workers lost their lives that day, and another was injured.
It was revealed several months later that DuPont’s exhaust and ventilation systems at this chemical plant were malfunctioning, releasing small amounts of methyl mercaptan over a six-year period. Methyl mercaptan is a hazardous chemical typically added to gasoline. However, no calls or complaints were ever submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about the leak. The exhaust and ventilation system had eventually become clogged several times since 2008. Three of the employees who died were ordered to clear the pipes and lost their lives due to this slow chemical leak.
According to a spokesperson, there is no information that proves long-term, low level exposure to methyl mercaptan has negative effects on human health. However, the spokesperson also admitted there may be gaps in understanding.
DuPont Endangered the Lives of Its Workers
DuPont shut the facility down shortly after the chemical leak. Though it was scheduled to reopen in June, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation team addressed the safety issues of the plant and issued a series of changes it recommended to DuPont’s board members. Shortly after, DuPont would issue a statement saying it would not, in fact, reopen the plant. The company blamed the closing on missing growing seasons in its agricultures sector, the decline in value of U.S. currency overseas and the cost of closing the La Porte plant.
However, when those four workers died due to exposure to more than 23,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan, the Chemical Safety Board found that both the surrounding public and workers were in danger of deadly exposure to this chemical leak. DuPont was fined $372,000 by OSHA for failing to provide breathing protection gear, an ineffective toxic gas detection system and failure to perform maintenance on the ventilation system.
Overall, it seems the closing of La Porte’s plant may be safer for both the workers and residents in the surrounding areas. However, this does beg the question of whether DuPont’s other chemical plants also put workers at risk for dangerous chemical exposure.