The New Castle-area chemical plant where a toxic gas leak occurred last year now faces fines from the federal agency.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Croda for 25 “serious” violations related to the release of nearly 2,700 pounds of toxic and highly flammable ethylene oxide at its New Castle plant in November.
“This incident could have been prevented if the employer had taken appropriate precautions,” said OSHA Area Director Erin Patterson in a statement. “By failing to follow well-known safety and health procedures, and provide training, they risked the health of their workers.”
According to the Department of Labor, the gas leak hospitalized one employee and left five others with symptoms of ethylene oxide exposure. The National Institutes of Health lists ethylene oxide as a cancer-causing substance.
Croda is facing penalties totalling $262,548 for violations including deficient emergency action and response plans and a failure to train employees on how to manage ethylene oxide leak.
The agency said the company also “failed to develop procedures for emergency responders to manage firewater” during a gas leak.
Company officials said that during the incident over a million gallons of water were sprayed on the leak in an attempt to dissolve it. This spring the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) noted most of that water spilled onto the ground, and ordered the company to test soil and groundwater for possible contamination. Croda subsequently reported neither the soil nor groundwater it sampled contained ethylene oxide.
Croda spokeswoman Cara Eaton said company representatives have met informally with OSHA to “discuss the series of citations and proposed penalties” and are reviewing the contents of the citation letter to determine “next steps.” OSHA officials say violations and resulting penalties can be modified through this informal conference process.
“We are committed to being a responsible business, and we will do all we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our team at all times,” said Eaton.
Croda agreed to pay DNREC just over $230,000 in March to settle violations related to the leak. Environmental justice advocates criticized this payment as too low.
Croda also reimbursed the Delaware River and Bay Authority nearly $143,000 in lost revenue and operating expenses associated with the Delaware Memorial Bridge closure the day of the leak.
Following the leak and the settlement with DNREC, advocates and neighbors have called for more community involvement, improvement of the emergency notification system and more air monitoring in the surrounding areas.
According to DNREC, the ethylene oxide plant at Croda’s New Castle site has not resumed operation, and there is currently no restart date. A DNREC spokesman said Croda continues to work on addressing the requirements under the settlement that must be met before production can resume.
DNREC plans to hold a public meeting before the ethylene oxide plant resumes operation.
This story has been updated to include comment from Croda and information from DNREC.
This story has also been corrected to reflect the fact that Croda and DNREC entered into a settlement in March, not May, of this year.