About 20 miles east of downtown Houston sits a World War II era chemical plant, the La Porte plant, that is run by the DuPont Company. In November, the pesticide unit at that plant was the site of the worst chemical accident in the U.S. within the past ten years with four people losing their lives. Federal investigators started looking into safety practices and last week, the nation’s top workplace safety agency placed DuPont on its severe violator list, citing serious violations endangering the lives of workers. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) says it wants to send a message to the entire chemical industry.
Texas Standard spoke with investigative reporter Lise Olsen from the Houston Chronicle.
On the new violations against DuPont Co.:
“This is the second round of inspections that they did after the deaths and this time they looked at the whole plant, not just the pesticide plant where there was a leak of 23,000 pounds of toxic gas that poisoned workers. They found similar process safety-related problems with procedures and equipment at other huge units at the same plant that makes acid and that makes herbicide.”
On the less than $100,000 fine:
“It certainly was something that caught, I think, the unions’ attention and some of the families’ attention that the fine seemed incredibly low. OSHA operates under, though, a really outdated fine structure so even their big fines can be 5,000 dollars, which is really a pittance. So for OSHA, it was a relatively large fine, believe it or not.”
On DuPont being listed as a severe violator:
“DuPont has said it’s very disapointed with OSHA’s labeling them as a severe violator and it’s hoping to resolve that and address the issues that have been raised. They pride themselves on their safety reputation.”