WASHINGTON — DuPont Co. will pay $724,000 in fines for Clean Air Act violations which led to a 2010 vinyl fluoride gas explosion that killed one person and seriously injured another at a chemical plant in Tonawanda, N.Y., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Oct. 1.
In the settlement, DuPont also will spend $112,000 purchasing vapor and radiation detection equipment and training for the local fire department. Since the Nov. 9, 2010 fire and explosion, DuPont has already made approximately $6.8 million in chemical safety-related improvements at the facility, according to the EPA, including installing equipment, developing more stringent safety and monitoring standards and changing the configuration of equipment to reduce the chances of another seepage or buildup of vinyl fluoride vapors or other dangerous gasses.
“Safe and reliable operations are our top priorities, and we have implemented extensive modifications to the process and operating procedures at the site,” Warren Hoy, the DuPont Yerkes plant manager, said in a statement.
Contract welder Richard Folaron was welding on top of a 10,800-gallon storage tank that had held slurry used in the production of photovoltaic panels. Though the tank that Folaron and DuPont employee William Freeburg were working on had been emptied weeks earlier, according to the report, flammable vinyl fluoride vapor flowed from elsewhere, undetected, into the tank through an interconnected pipe and tank system. The vapor ignited and Folaron was killed instantly; Freeburg was badly burned, according to the reports.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board's 2012 report concluded that numerous hazards had been overlooked by DuPont, which EPA's subsequent investigation confirmed.
Vinyl fluoride is a monomer used to make polyvinylfluoride, a fluoropolymer resin.
“EPA's investigation of DuPont highlights the importance of preventing, preparing for and responding quickly to chemical releases and other incidents,” said Judith Enck, EPA's regional administrator, in a statement. “It is imperative that DuPont and other businesses make protecting human health and the environment their top priority. The chemical explosion that happened at DuPont in Tonawanda must never happen again.”
Earlier this year, DuPont was fined $372,000 by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which criticized safety procedures at its LaPorte, Texas plant after four workers died last November when they were overwhelmed by methyl mercaptan, a toxic gas used to make jet fuel and insecticides. OSHA found the deaths were preventable and placed DuPont in its severe violator enforcement program.