DuPont to Pay $19 Million for 2014 Plant Explosion

26.04.2023 - Du Pont has been found guilty of criminal negligence and fined $12 million in connection with a November 2014 explosion that killed four employees of its methyl mercaptan plant in LaPorte, Texas, and caused extensive environmental damage.

The actual sum the company will have pay rises to more than $19 million when a court-ordered $4 million donation to the Fish & Wildlife Fund and awards in civil lawsuits are added.

In a rare sentence for a business of its size, US District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal also mandated that DuPont be put on probation for two years, during which it must give the US Probation Office full access to all of its operating locations.

The court separately ordered a year’s probation for Kenneth Sandel, unit operations leader of the Insecticide Business Unit (IBU) responsible for the plant. Both the company and Sandel pleaded guilty to all charges. DuPont also acknowledged violating the federal Clean Air Act.

Along with killing the four workers, the chemical release injured other DuPont employees and traveled downwind into the surrounding areas, the judgment said.

In a statement, Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said DuPont’s failure to follow required chemical safety procedures at La Porte – where an employee inadvertently left open a piping valve of the waste disposal system — had led to the deaths.

The fatal accident “demonstrates the importance of holding chemical facilities accountable for implementing chemical safety requirements that are designed to protect workers and neighboring communities,” Starfield added.

In 2018, DuPont reached a settlement with the US Justice Department over civil penalties in connection with the blast and was required to pay $3.1 million without admitting liability.

Separately, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company $106,000 for workplace violations and added it to its Severe Violator Program. Permanently closed in 2016, the plant has since been demolished.

The charges brought against DuPont and Sandel are part of an EPA initiative called Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities. The agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in Texas conducted the investigation into the DuPont incident, aided by the Texas Environmental Enforcement Task Force.

Under administrator Michael Regan, appointed by President Joe Biden, the EPA has been toughening rules, regulations and penalties for chemical producers, especially on the Gulf coast, in the name of environmental justice. The Texas and Louisiana petrochemicals corridor has begun feeling the heat.

Acting on the agency’s behalf, the Justice Department recently ordered Japanese-owned Denka Performance Elastomer to “significantly reduce” chloroprene emissions at its facility in LaPlace, Louisiana, which makes feedstock for its neoprene rubber portfolio, saying that it presents an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to public health and welfare.

 Up to 2015, the facility belonged to DuPont, which still owns the land.  

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist