The Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today a settlement with E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) at its Belle, W. Va. facility for eight alleged releases of harmful levels of hazardous substances between May 2006 and January 2010. Several of the releases posed significant risk to people or the Kanawha River. One DuPont worker died after exposure to phosgene, a toxic gas released due to DuPont’s failure to comply with industry accident prevention procedures.
DuPont will pay a $1.275 million penalty and will take corrective actions to prevent future releases to resolve the alleged violations of the general duty clause and risk management provisions of the Clean Air Act, and the emergency response provisions of Section 103 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and Section 304 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
“Failing to follow laws meant to prevent accidents can have fatal consequences – as was tragically the case here,” said Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement holds DuPont accountable for its failure to prevent hazardous releases and requires improvements to its risk management operations and emergency response systems that could prevent future tragedies and damage to the environment.”
“Producing toxic and hazardous substances can be dangerous, and requires complying with environmental and safety laws,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at EPA. “Today's settlement with DuPont will ensure that the proper practices are in place to protect communities and nearby water bodies.”
Through this settlement, DuPont will implement enhanced risk management operating procedures to improve its process of responding to alarms triggered by releases of hazardous substances. DuPont will also develop an enhanced operating procedure to improve its management of change process, which is a best practice used to ensure that safety, health and environmental risks are controlled when a company makes changes to their processes. In addition, DuPont will improve procedures so federal, state, and local responders are notified of emergency releases, and will conduct training exercises to prepare employees to make such notifications. DuPont estimates that it will spend approximately $2,276,000 to complete the required improvements to its safety and emergency response processes.
Previously, on March 18, 2010, the U.S. EPA issued an administrative order to DuPont to undertake corrective measures related to the releases. DuPont estimates that it has spent approximately $6,828,750 to comply with the administrative order.
On Jan. 22, 2010, at DuPont’s chemical manufacturing plant in Belle, West Virginia operators discovered that more than 2,000 pounds of methyl chloride had leaked into the atmosphere and employees failed to respond to alarms triggered by the release. On the morning of January 23, workers discovered a leak in a pipe containing the toxic gas oleum. Later that day, a hose containing phosgene, a highly toxic gas, ruptured resulting in the fatality of a worker exposed to phosgene.
The alleged risk management violations on January 22 and 23 include failing to:
- identify hazards that may result from accidental releases;
- design and maintain a safe facility;
- minimize consequences of accidental releases that do occur;
- follow recognized industry safety practices;
- train employees on how to respond to potential risks;
- frequently inspect and test equipment consistent with good engineering practices and manufacturer recommendations; and
- follow the company’s own procedures for responding to alarms indicating potential problems and implementing safety protocol for the phosgene process.
In addition, there were five incidents identified through EPA inspections and extensive review of DuPont’s records that do not comply with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and t he Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
In these incidents, EPA alleged the company released harmful quantities of hazardous substances and then did not report the releases to the National Response Center, State Emergency Response Commission and Local Emergency Planning Committee in a timely manner. The largest of these was the release of 80 tons of methanol into the Kanawha River on Sept. 21, 2010.
For more information about the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program requirements, see http://www.epa.gov/compliance/monitoring/programs/caa/112r.html and http://www.epa.gov/oem/content/rmp/
For information about RMP*eSubmit or to view a Checklist for Submitting Your Risk Management Plan (RMP) for Chemical Accident Prevention and the RMP*eSubmit Users’ Manual, visit http://www.epa.gov/emergencies/rmp ).
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.