Monday, August 6, 2018

EPA fines DuPont 3.1 million dollars for the death of 4 workers in 2014

DuPont will pay a $3.1 million civil penalty under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice for violations of EPA’s risk management program (RMP) provisions. The violations led to an accident that killed four workers in Texas in late 2014. 
The accident occurred when nearly 11,000 kg of methyl mercaptan were released at a pesticide manufacturing unit at DuPont’s La Porte plant. Because of a series of maintenance errors, a jerry-rigged piping system transferred the flammable and toxic compound to plant areas where it should not have been. Two unsuspecting workers died when they attempted to clear a vent that they didn’t realize contained methyl mercaptan; two others died when coming to their aid. 
According to EPA’s complaint, DuPont’s actions violated 22 separate provisions of the Clean Air Act’s RMP. The alleged violations include failing to develop and implement written operating procedures, adequately implement management of change procedures, and implement safe work practices. The citations also include alleged violations of mechanical integrity regulations...
A disappointing aspect of these fines is of their relative size - will DuPont really miss 3 million bucks? Probably not. I wonder if there's an argument to be made for changing fines to be a percentage of gross revenue?

(Previous posts on the La Porte incident here and here.)

14 comments:

  1. Making the fine a percentage of gross revenue would be a nice idea. It's similar to what some European countries do with speeding tickets. The higher your income, the more you pay. I think the record right now is some dude in Switzerland who had a $290,000 speeding ticket.

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    1. The unintended consequence of this will be growth of number of small "independent" companies with small revenue streams and lax safety regulations.

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    2. I don't know...maybe. But it seems like large companies don't really split into small companies just to avoid fines (taxes maybe). If it's a hefty fine they just take it on the chin and move on. Pfizer had a $2B fine not too long ago, Wells Fargo also had a $2B fine recently. Those are some solid fines. $3M, not so much.

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    3. Generally I thought they split to avoid consequences of the past (environmental or health liabilities, which have an unknown ceiling) - they send the liabilities off, with as few assets as they can get away with, and eventually the company goes bankrupt, and poof! no more problems.

      I wonder if serial killers could do that. "My hand is being sent to Switzerland with $500 and liability for 33 murders."

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    4. Union Carbide still technically exists as a legal entity to keep Bhopal liability walled off from Dow.

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    5. Haven't some of the coal companies spun off subsidiaries, saddled the subsidiaries with pensions, then declared bankruptcy?

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  2. A better idea would be jailing the responsible managers for a time.

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    1. Sending executives to prison gets companies' attention.

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  3. I seriously doubt $3M will hurt them. I may be remembering wrong but didn't they face only a $50M fine after the PFOA situation? How many millions in profit did they make from Teflon? A percentage-based fine for Dupont in that instance would have been very intriguing...

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    1. The published fines and settlements for Dupont over PFOA and PFOS are in the hundreds of millions so far.

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  4. DuPont was one of the three corporations responsible for leaded gasoline. They should have been seized and the shareholders wiped out over that alone, as retroactive as we could hunt down the money trail. They cost us trillions, and killed untold numbers of people. All to make a fraction of a penny per gallon.

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  5. Looks like two Arkema executives (the North America CEO and the plant manager) are being criminally charged for the peroxide plant explosion in Crosby, TX during Hurricane Harvey. I was surprised to see that - there are plenty of cases of gross negligence where I wouldn't mind seeing executives sent to prison, but this situation seemed more like bad luck than willful disregard for safety.
    https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Bond-set-for-two-indicted-Arkema-executives-13135055.php

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  6. Out of curiosity, were any charges brought after the ammonium nitrate explosion in West, TX five years ago, and did any stick? A dozen dead, hundreds of wounded - that Crosby, TX incident OTOH was a controlled explosion and damage did not extend beyond the perimeter of the site!

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    1. EPA responded with a change in a rule, which is in the process of being undone currently.

      "The rule amends the current RMP, first instituted in 1990 to prevent accidental chemical releases at facilities that manufacture, use or handle chlorine, ammonia and other flammable chemicals. EPA decided to revise the rule after the 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plan explosion, which resulted in 14 deaths, even though the explosion was a result of arson. The intent of EPA’s changes to the RMP rule is to improve emergency response planning in and around facilities that use hazardous chemicals. Approximately 11,900 facilities will be impacted under the new rule."

      http://www.naco.org/blog/epa-temporarily-freezes-risk-management-rule-would-impact-county-water-facilities-and-emergency

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