Croda International, a British-based chemicals company, has again been fined by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a toxic gas leak near New Castle in November 2018. The most recent fine of $260,000 by OSHA related to what authorities say was a preventable leak brings the total fines levied to date in excess of $650,000.
Toxic Gas Leak
Croda operates a processing plant at an industrial site along the Delaware River near Interstate 295. The plant was new and open for just a few months. The gas leak occurred near the Delaware Memorial Bridge on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, causing not only an environmental but a logistical nightmare. The bridge was closed for 8.5 hours, and Croda has already agreed to pay the Delaware River and Bay Authority $150,000 for the costs the agency incurred for the closure.
There was fear not only of the dangers posed to motorists in their vehicles from breathing the contaminated air, but also a fear of fire and explosion in the industrial area, spreading to vehicles on the interstate. Nearly $250,000 in penalties and fines were levied by state environmental regulators against the company.
OSHA states the leak caused 2,600 pounds of ethylene oxide, a toxic, flammable and carcinogenic gas with great explosive capabilities, to escape from the plant. OSHA found 25 serious health violations putting workers at risk of being injured in a chemical accident. OSHA violations include failure to provide proper employee training and failure to follow well-known safety and health procedures.
After the leak, one worker was hospitalized and five others displayed symptoms of ethylene oxide exposure. According to Croda, all injured workers were back on the job. The company has not resumed ethylene oxide production since the day of the leak. Prior to opening the Delaware plant earlier in 2018, Croda had shipped ethylene oxide in via train from Gulf Coast manufacturers.
When the plans for the plant were approved in 2015, the new facility was represented as environmentally friendly and safe. The narrowly averted calamity may have resulted from the wrong gasket fitted onto a pipe during the processing plant’s construction, according to a press release issued by Croda. The company’s statement claims no other damage occurred to the plant, and that the gasket was sent out for examination by independent experts and analysts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers ethylene oxide a “potential workplace carcinogen” after researchers found workers regularly exposed to the chemicals were diagnosed with above-average rate of breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.
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