Federal investigators in Houston on Thursday shared some more details about the incident that killed four workers at DuPont's LaPorte facility back in November.
Investigators say that a design flaw in DuPont's pipes and valves screwed up the ventilation system. Liquids would routinely build up in the ventilation system and workers would have to go in and manually drain the vents, according to the Associated Press. That process of draining the vents would expose the workers to whatever chemicals were trapped inside, including methyl mercaptan, a highly toxic substance often used in insecticides
In the incident that killed four employees, the supply line had been plugged. While workers were trying to unstop the line, the following happened, as U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso explained in written testimony before a Senate joint committee back in December:
"On November 15, 2014, there was a release of methyl mercaptan, a highly toxic and volatile liquid, which DuPont itself has estimated at 23,000 pounds - a very significant quantity. Odors of the chemical were reportedly discernible many miles from the plant. Four workers - including operators and would-be rescuers - perished inside the methomyl-production building where the release originated."
On Thursday Moure-Eraso elaborated on what Chemical Safety Board investigators have discovered while conducting the board's investigation of the incident. (The CSB is one of several agencies investigating what happened at DuPont.) He said that even if the ventilation system had been working properly, the workers might still have been in danger because the basic setup of the plant was flawed. These types of accidents have some common factors, namely faulty designs, bad safety systems, weak regulations and loose industry standards.
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"The building was designed in such a way that even had ventilation fans been working on the day of the accident, it could not necessarily protect workers from chemical exposure," Moure-Eraso said according to KHOU.
DuPont released a statement on Thursday vowing to change:
Safety has been a core value and constant priority at DuPont since our founding. We first implemented safety rules in 1811 and we have been engaged in a continuous process to improve ever since. We are responding to this tragedy in a way that reinforces our absolute focus on safety and enables us to learn from it so that we can find ways to be an even better company.
The LaPorte accident was the third deadly incident at a DuPont facility in the past five years.