Four Texas workers died and a fifth was hospitalized Saturday morning after a hazardous gas leak at a DuPont chemical plant east of Houston.
The workers were overcome about 4 a.m. Central Standard Time, apparently as they were responding to the leak of the gas, methyl mercaptan, according to the plant’s manager, Randall Clements.
Methyl mercaptan is mixed with odorless natural gas to give it its characteristic rotten-egg smell. The company said the leak was contained at about 6 a.m. The worker who was not seriously injured was being hospitalized overnight for observation.
The leak spread a stench across broad areas of La Porte, an industrial town on the Gulf of Mexico about 20 miles east of Houston, but the company said it posed no hazard to the community.
A spokesman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency, said a team of experts would arrive in La Porte on Sunday to search for the cause of the accident.
Mr. Clements said in a written statement that the company was cooperating with federal, state and local authorities, and was conducting its own inquiry into the accident. “We will share what we learn with the relevant authorities,” he said in a statement.
...The company said that the leak began when a valve on a container of methyl mercaptan malfunctioned. La Porte’s emergency management coordinator, Jeff Suggs, said the accident occurred in an operating unit that produces additives for fertilizers....Questions that I have:
- I wasn't aware of methyl mercaptan/methanethiol's ability to be an acute toxin -- is it one? (Apparently so, according to this CDC report of a worker who died of exposure.)
- What happened here? I know there was a faulty valve - what happened to the workers? Was it a low-oxygen environment?