BASF’s Contaminated TDI Unlikely Health Risk

23.10.2017 -

Environmental authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate have criticized BASF’s information policy in the wake of a mid-October incident at the chemical giant’s new 300,000 t/y TDI complex at Ludwigshafen. However, safety authorities have meanwhile concluded that the contaminated foam bears no heightened risk to health.

On Oct. 10, BASF informed the state environmental authority, along with its own customers, that between Aug. 25 and Sept. 29 around 7,500 tonnes of TDI had been contaminated with dichlorobenzene, which is regarded as a possible carcinogen.

In the interim, the precursor for flexible foam, used in particular in mattresses, had been supplied to customers. The contamination first came to light when a mattress producer detected impurities.

Ten days after the mishap, which was not technically explained, BASF corrected the figure downward, saying that only 6,900 t had been affected. Nevertheless, the fact that a defective product was supplied for over a month showed that the plant’s quality control and information policies were deficient, said Environment Minister Ulrike Höfken. She called for an improvement in inspection procedures to assure that no residual solvents are present in material delivered to customers.

On Oct. 20, BASF that said around 30% of the defective TDI had been recalled, and provisions were made to recall an additional 50%. Identified product already processed into foam was to be taken back from customers for disposal.

BASFs conclusions that the contamination posed no threat to human health were backed by several authorities, including the German institute for risk evaluation, Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung. At the end of last week, the chemical producer was in the process of restarting the plant, which had been shut down as the incident became known.

The mammoth Ludwigshafen isocyanates complex built at an investment cost of €1 billion  consists of eight separate plants producing precursors, in addition to TDI. It has been beset by problems from the outset. Even before construction began, a World War II bomb was discovered in the soil and had to be defused, delaying start-up by a year.

After going online in the third quarter of 2015, the plant had to be taken off stream at the end of 2016 due to a technical defect and its reactor replaced by a smaller backup. It was only restarted in February 2017.

After facing criticism of its information policy in the wake of a fatal accident at Ludwigshafen almost exactly a year ago, BASF chief, Kurt Bock, had said the group might have to rethink its crisis communication practice.