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DuPont will pay a $1.275 million penalty to the Feds for violations at its Belle, WV, facility for eight 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, according to the settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice.

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In addition to the fine, DuPont will take corrective actions to prevent future releases to resolve the 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.

“Producing toxic and hazardous substances can be dangerous, and requires complying with environmental and safety laws,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s settlement with DuPont will ensure that the proper practices are in place to protect communities and nearby water bodies.”

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“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.”

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 $2.28 million to complete the required improvements to its safety and emergency response processes.

On March 18, 2010 the EPA issued an administrative order to DuPont to undertake corrective measures related to the releases. DuPont estimates it spent $6.8 million to comply with the administrative order.

On Jan. 22, 2010, at DuPont’s chemical manufacturing plant in Belle, operators found 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 Jan. 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 risk management violations on Jan. 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 its employees on how to respond to potential risks
• Frequently inspect and test equipment consistent with good engineering practices and manufacturer recommendations.
• Follow the company’s own procedures for responding to alarms indicating potential problems and implementing safety protocol for the phosgene process.

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