The British chemical-maker Croda failed to take required safety measures to prevent, protect, or contain leak of explosive gas at its Atlas Point chemical plant on the Delaware River, federal regulators have found.
The findings by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration relate to a Nov. 25 ethylene oxide leak that closed the neighboring Delaware Memorial Bridge, snarling holiday traffic on the nearby New Jersey Turnpike and I-95 at the end of the long Thanksgiving weekend.
One worker was hospitalized and five more suffered symptoms of ethylene oxide exposure in the resulting accident, according to OSHA. The company and emergency responders had at first said no one was injured, then said several workers checked in with doctors just in case.
OSHA recommended Croda pay $262,548, after deducting 10 percent from the maximum penalties because the plant had a previous good record. In March, Croda was fined an additional $246,500 by the State of Delaware and ordered to conduct testing and improvements.
“We strive to foster a safe work environment that complies with all OSHA requirements,” said a statement from Croda spokesperson Cara Eaton. She said company officials were reviewing the OSHA findings “to determine our next steps."
“They risked the health of their workers," said Erin G. Patterson, director of the OSHA office in Wilmington, in a written statement. The leak “could have been prevented if the employer had taken appropriate precautions,” followed “well-known safety and health procedures,” flagged improper materials and methods used in the construction of the ethylene oxide unit, protected plant operators with a safe location from which to deal with emergencies, and properly trained workers to cope with accidents.
The accident had raised questions from nearby residents and bridge users about why a potentially dangerous new industrial facility was built on plant property next to a heavily traveled bridge, or why the state and county approved the plan.
Croda had deficient emergency action and response plans, and failed to train employees to manage ethylene oxide leaks, OSHA said. Its records showed inadequate fire protection, water deluge systems, and emergency shutdown procedures. Croda also failed with its records and procedures for helping firefighters manage an ethylene oxide leak.
The ethylene oxide unit, which was completed last summer, remains shut until the company complies with state and federally mandated improvements. The plant, which employs about 250, remains open, using ethylene oxide shipped by rail from Texas — a practice Croda had hoped to end with the new unit, which made the volatile but useful industrial material from alcohol.
“There is no restart date at present,” said Michael Globetti, spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. He said his agency would hold a public hearing before the ethylene oxide unit can go back on line.
Croda wants the fines reduced and is negotiating with OSHA toward a civil settlement.
Among Croda’s violations alleged by OSHA, the company: