U.S. Chemical Safety Board Faults DuPont for Series of Accidents at West Virginia Plant

Power PlantThe U.S. Chemical Safety Board has found that a “series of safety shortcomings” caused three serious accidents at a DuPont chemical plant in Belle, West Virginia in 2010. The CSB draft report noted that the plant had, among other things, failed to maintain the integrity of a critical phosgene hose. The result was that the three accidents occurred within 33 hours, beginning on January 22, 2010. The first accident involved 2,000 pounds of flammable methyl chloride gas, which workers discovered had been leaking into the atmosphere for five days. The second involved a leak in a pipe that resulted in a fume cloud of sulfur trioxide. Finally, the third accident released phosgene into the air. During World War I, phosgene was used as a chemical weapon. The worker who was exposed to the phosgene at DuPont died the next day.

CSB investigators found that the pipe carrying phosgene had been in operation for seven months, when it should have been changed once a month. DuPont had been aware as early as 1987 of the dangers of using braided stainless steel hoses lined with Teflon. An expert recommended lining the hoses with Monel instead, which would be more resistant to corrosion. Monel was never used. Recommendations in 1988 for an enclosure around the piping were also never followed.

The CSB recommended several safety improvements for the plant. One was to enclose all phosgene production so that if any leaked, it would be contained. Another was to revise the company’s near-miss reporting and investigation policy to encourage anonymous participation by all employees, so even small incidents would be reported. The CSB also pressed for the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to adopt tighter standards for safe handling of phosgene and other toxic gases.

Situations like the 2010 accidents create a nightmare for the injured party’s family. A preventable accident could result in wrongful death of a loved one or serious disability. The injured worker might never be able to work again, and require constant treatment for pain and suffering. That is when families typically turn to a West Virginia personal injury attorney and file a lawsuit in court. If the family files a wrongful death lawsuit, they would need to show that negligence or intent was the cause of death, and that the family has suffered monetary injury as a result. Awards for wrongful death are generally monetary damages based on the loss of support and services, possible medical expenses, and other factors. The jury takes each of these factors into consideration when deciding the award. West Virginia also permits an award of punitive damages if the company’s behavior was intentional or grossly negligent.

If the worker is alive, but injured, the family might file a negligence suit, claiming that the company’s negligence resulted in injury to the worker. In both cases, the family would need to show that the company had a duty of care to the worker; that through its failure to use reasonable care, the company breached that duty; that the breach resulted in the worker’s injury or death; and that the worker and family have suffered as a result. Many companies carry workers compensation insurance in order to avoid worker injury lawsuits. Workers compensation acts as an “exclusive remedy,” awarding workers a fixed monetary amount and taking away the worker’s right to sue — unless a third party was also involved in the injury. In any event, the options for holding a company accountable can be very complicated, and it is important to make the right decisions. The Wolfe Law Firm can help families of injured workers get what they deserve.