Friends and family members are mourning four workers who died in a chemical leak at a DuPont plant this weekend in La Porte, Texas. According to news reports, the toxic chemicals were released on Saturday, early in the morning.
Now, a team of seven federal investigators from the Chemical Safety Board is looking for answers. The board, an independent government agency, is responsible for examining fatal industrial accidents that involve toxic chemicals. Investigators arrived in La Porte yesterday.
Investigation, Eyewitnesses, and Evidence
Daniel Horowitz, the manager of the investigation, explained that he and the other investigators will employ a wide range of tools and resources to get the answers they need. Their methods include studying the plant, talking to witnesses of the accident, and searching for every piece of available evidence to determine the cause of the leak.
Investigators already submitted a comprehensive request for any official documents that could shed light on the cause of the accident.
First Methyl Mercaptan Investigation Handled by the Board
Horowitz stated that this is the first chemical plant leak involving methyl mercaptan that his team has handled.
According to Horowitz, methyl mercaptan is "a toxic material. It's on multiple lists. It commands the highest level of regulatory scrutiny, so when there are this many deaths associated with a chemical like that it raises all sorts of questions."
The goal of the Chemical Safety Board is to prevent future accident of this kind. "Ultimately, of course, we want to learn why this happened in detail so that it can be prevented in the future," he said.
He also noted that, accidents this tragic indicate a problem. "In as much as four people tragically died in this, there was obviously some sort of breakdown, so we'll have to figure out what that was."
What is methyl mercaptan?
Methyl mercaptan is the substance that makes natural gas smell like rotten eggs. Although the substance is usually stored as a liquid, it turns to a gas when it is exposed to oxygen. According to news reports, this is how the workers were exposed to the substance.
Symptoms of methyl mercaptan exposure include headaches, nausea, eye irritation, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and unconsciousness. The risk of death is especially high in small spaces with poor ventilation.
DuPont Spokesman Responds to Fatal Leak
Aaron Woods, a spokesperson for DuPont, said that the leak happened when a valve failed, allowed the deadly chemical to seep into the air. He estimates that the leak began around 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Workers controlled the leak in about two hours, but five workers were already exposed to the methyl mercaptan, for of whom died. Two of the victims were brothers, multiple reports indicated.
"This is the first time the unit has had a release like this," Woods said.