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Deadly DuPont Leak Killing Four And Leaving Thousands Potentially at Risk Exposes Plant’s Emergency Response Failures

It was reported on November 15, 2013 that a deadly disaster killing four workers and seriously injuring a fifth, occurred at the DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas. The plant is approximately 25 miles from Houston.

At approximately 3:15 a.m., the workers were responding to a leak of methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to make pesticides. The methyl mercaptan that killed the workers drifted as far as 40 miles away, where community members noticed the odor. Crystal Rae Wise, 53; Wade Baker; Gilbert Tisnado, 48; and Robert Tisnado, 39, died as a result of the gas leak. A fifth unidentified worker was severely injured.

Investigations revealed that DuPont did not have enough emergency oxygen and masks on hand for the workers who died trying to fix the leak. Medical personnel could not reach the injured workers because they were not trained in the use of protective equipment. It was only a little before 7:00 a.m. when firefighters were able to reach the already dead workers.

A 911 call was placed at 4:13 a.m. However, more than two hours passed before any tests were conducted to determine if chemicals at hazardous levels were released from the plant. The chemicals released a pungent, rotten egg, cabbage like odor into the air. Methyl mercaptan can cause eye and lung irritation and can be fatal at high levels. Thus, members of the community depended on DuPont to know whether it was safe to be outside. However, the communities of La Porte and Deer Park were not notified that the chemicals were harmless until four hours later.

DuPont did not contact the Channel Industries Mutual Aide (CIMA), a non-profit organization equipped to deal with deadly disasters. As a result, the regional emergency group did not come. Robert Cooper, chairman of CIMA, stated that CIMA did not arrive at the plant until after La Porte city officials had arrived. Additionally, it was learned that DuPont had failed to disclose the size of its toxic chemical inventory in a report the company was required to file with the La Porte emergency management officials.

Unfortunately the trigger for the accidental release has not been determined. However, it is suspected that the methyl mercaptan leaked due to suspected mechanical failure of the unit’s process systems.

It has been reported that this is the fourth incident to occur with major injuries in the last five years at a DuPont plant. Furthermore, over the past five years, DuPont has received dozens of citations and has been ordered at least seven times to pay fines by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. DuPont has also been in violation of federal laws and agencies.

With such complaints come serious concerns that plant workers are at risk of severely injuring their lives. There is a risk that all chemical plant workers take. When a plant worker goes to work at a plant, he or she does not know what could occur and if they will return home to their loved ones. As a result, plants must take utmost precaution when responding to incidents such as the case here.

Benny Agosto, Jr. is a partner at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner in Houston, Texas. For over 65 years, Abraham Watkins has successfully represented injured people and families who fall victim to catastrophes. Our attorneys have the knowledge, experience and resources necessary to obtain just compensation their clients. For more information, please contact the office of Benny Agosto, Jr. at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner, by letter at 800 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas 77002, or by phone at 713-396-3964.

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