Workers exposed to methyl mercaptan, chemical used in insecticides
by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams
Four workers were killed and one injured in a chemical leak at a DuPont plant near Houston, Texas on Saturday.
A valve began leaking methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to make insecticides and fungicides, around 4am at a plant stationed in La Porte, about 20 miles east of Houston. Officials say the leak was contained by 6am, but the five employees who were in the unit at the time responded to the accident and were exposed to the chemical. The cause was not immediately known.
Methyl mercaptan is also often used to add odor to natural gas, which has no smell, for safety purposes.
According to the Houston Chronicle, among the victims were 39-year-old Robert Tisnado and his 48-year-old brother Gibby Tisnado, who had worked at the plant for six years. USA Today also wrote that the leak killed a supervisor who had been with DuPont for more than 40 years.
The Chronicle continued:
The chemical can cause severe respiratory, skin and eye irritation. It can also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma and even death. Exposure in poorly ventilated, enclosed, or low-lying areas can result in asphyxiation, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry….
Antonio Areola, 50, who works at the complex for another company, said the news was extremely sad. Plant workers are haunted by the potential dangers of the job, he said.
“There’s danger in the plants, you can always feel it,” he said in Spanish.
The Associated Press reports:
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents, announced late Saturday that it was sending a seven-person team to investigate the incident.
Jeff Suggs, emergency management coordinator for La Porte, said the chemical release was not toxic for those living nearby, but that it caused a smell that’s similar to rotten eggs.
“It’s a nuisance smell in the area. It’s a smell that’s traveled quite far,” Suggs said.
The odor from the leak lingered in the area for the better part of the day and reached areas about 40 miles away, The Houston Chronicle reported.
This is not the first time in recent years that DuPont workers have been killed by overlooked safety hazards in the company’s factories around the country. As NBC News writes:
The Chemical Safety Board in 2011 found “a series of preventable safety shortcomings” at a DuPont facility in Belle, West Virginia, contributed to a 2010 phosgene gas release that killed one worker. Also in 2010, an explosion during welding at a DuPont plant outside of Buffalo, N.Y., killed one worker. The board blamed the company’s failure to monitor flammable gas levels in a storage tank before welding for that accident.
Plant manager Randall Clements said in a statement, “There are no words to fully express the loss we feel or the concern and sympathy we extend to the families of the employees and their co-workers. We are in close touch with them and providing them every measure of support and assistance at this time.”
He added that DuPont will cooperate with officials investigating the cause of the accident.