DuPont Fined for Fatal Chem Plant Blast

Monday, October 5, 2015 @ 03:10 PM gHale

DuPont will pay a $724,000 fine to settle violations related to a 2010 explosion that killed one person and injured another at its chemical plant in Tonawanda, NY, federal officials said.

The Nov. 9, 2010, chemical explosion and fire occurred at the DuPont Yerkes plant when flammable vinyl fluoride got inside a process tank and exploded, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.

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An ensuing investigation found “several areas of the facility’s operations … had been in violation of the Clean Air Act,” the EPA said.

A contract welder at the DuPont plant died, and another worker ended up badly burned.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) concluded DuPont overlooked hazards, which the EPA’s investigation confirmed, the EPA said.

Vinyl fluoride is an ingredient used to make plastic products.

Richard J. Folaron, 57, of South Wales, died instantly and William R. Freeburg of Angola sustained injuries in the incident. They were working on a 10,800-gallon storage tank used to hold slurry involved in the production of photovoltaic panels; workers emptied the tank in question weeks before.

Flammable vinyl fluoride vapor flowed, undetected, into the tank from interconnected tanks in service. The vapor ignited while Folaron started welding on top of the tank.

The EPA said DuPont addressed the violations prior to the settlement.

DuPont installed equipment and developed more-stringent safety procedures to reduce the risk of a similar explosion, according to the agency’s release.

“Safe and reliable operations are our top priorities, and we have implemented extensive modifications to the process and operating procedures at the site,” said Warren Hoy, the DuPont Yerkes plant manager.

Hoy said the company has already acted on recommendations from the investigations conducted by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its own internal investigation.

DuPont worked with the EPA, corrected problems and completed several chemical safety-related improvements at the facility, the agency said.

Among the improvements, DuPont:
• Upgraded its process to analyze potential vinyl fluoride hazards
• Took actions to reduce the risks relating to vinyl fluoride vapors
• Changed the configuration of the equipment to reduce the chance of dangerous gas build-up
• Installed new controls and additional protective equipment
• Improved vinyl fluoride monitoring
• Improved processes and operating procedures at all of its facilities to avoid a similar vinyl fluoride incident

“EPA’s investigation of DuPont highlights the importance of preventing, preparing for and responding quickly to chemical releases and other incidents,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA’s regional administrator. “It is imperative that DuPont and other businesses make protecting human health and the environment their top priority. The chemical explosion that happened at DuPont in Tonawanda must never happen again.”

Besides the fine, DuPont must spend $112,000 to buy vapor and radiation detection equipment for a local volunteer fire department and pay for training, the EPA said.

The Brighton Fire Department will receive first-responder equipment and training for the detection of radio isotopes and chemical gases, Hoy said.