Chemical spill still to be cleaned up
One look at the DuPont Beaumont Works Industrial Complex and the hundreds of yards of plastic sheeting covering more than an acre of land to catch water runoff, red and white caution tape cordoning off certain areas and signs instructing people where they can and can’t walk suggest something is definitely wrong.
A chemical spill at the site this past Thursday has yet to be cleaned up and a week later, many workers are still not able to do their jobs as the process unit sits idle while crews decontaminate the area.
According to an initial report, a relief valve failed and spewed 1,000 pounds of the chemical aniline into the air. The brownish-orange liquid coated much of the north end of the industrial complex, which includes the Lucite and Pandora plants. Despite earlier reports that none of the chemical escaped the boundaries of the plant, Aaron Woods, DuPont’s regional manager of public affairs, later confirmed that it had.
Aniline itself is a “probable human carcinogen” that has been found to cause tumors in lab animals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Exposure to aniline may occur from breathing contaminated outdoor air, smoking tobacco, or working or being near industries where it is produced or used,” states the EPA Web site. “The acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) effects of aniline in humans consist mainly of effects on the lung, such as upper respiratory tract irritation and congestion. Chronic exposure may also result in effects on the blood. … Animal studies indicate that aniline causes tumors of the spleen. EPA has classified aniline as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.”
But it’s not the aniline that is causing the greatest concern for the health and safety of the 26 workers at the complex, who were directly exposed when the valve failed.Rather, it is what is in the aniline. Woods confirmed there was a .05 percent mixture of the carcinogenic chemical 4-ADP or 4-aminodiphenyl, which is more commonly known as 4-aminobiphenyl. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 4-ADP is a “known human bladder carcinogen and animal studies have reported an increase in bladder and liver tumors from oral exposure.”
And while there is an allowable human exposure limit for aniline, there is no such exposure level for 4-ADP. In fact, the manufacture of 4-ADP has been banned in most countries and is heavily regulated in the U.S. The chemical is considered a contaminant formed during the creation of aniline but is also used for research purposes, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Additionally, the reportable quantity for aniline is 5,000 pounds and the reportable quantity for 4-ADP is 1 pound.
4-ADP is also specifically listed in Section 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910.1003 and is required to be reported immediately to OSHA if there is a release.“It had been formerly used as a highly efficient rubber antioxidant and as a dye intermediate,” OSHA reports. “It was reportedly an impurity in pre-1900 samples of aniline and is present in some samples of diphenylamine.”
Woods said work was still ongoing to remediate the site and the aniline unit remains shut down. He said there is no timeframe on when it will be restarted or when all of the workers will be back on the job.
“There were 26 plant workers that received direct exposure and were evaluated and again, there were no injuries, so we are continuing to monitor all 26 of those workers to make sure there are no concerns,” Woods said. “The aniline itself, the risk there is an acute risk or short-term risk. That aniline stream does have another product in it called 4-ADP. The quantity of that is less than .05 percent in that stream. Now, 4-ADP is a known carcinogen and the risk with that is a chronic risk or a long time exposure. So exposure on a one-time event is not a risk with that product. So, with that said, that is why we are monitoring the employees that were exposed. And we are taking all the precautions both on-site and off-site to ensure that any residue that is there is removed.
“A one-time event does not present a risk of getting cancer from 4-ADP because the risk there is a chronic (long-term) risk.”
But that is inconsistent with a study from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University Department of Environmental Health and Safety in New York that was provided to The Examiner by David Bary, an EPA spokesperson in Dallas.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] does not have a specific permissible exposure limit [PEL] for 4-aminodiphenyl,” the study cites. “However, 4-aminodiphenyl is one of 13 chemicals, which is considered a potential human carcinogen by OSHA. 4-aminodiphenyl may cause adverse health effects following exposure via inhalation, ingestion, dermal contact or eye contact. Short-term [acute] exposure to 4-aminodiphenyl can cause headache, lethargy, urinary tract burning, blood in the urine, and bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes [due to methemoglobinemia]. Longterm [chronic] exposure to 4-aminodiphenyl can cause blood and pus in the urine and frequent, painful urination. In mice, subchronic or chronic subcutaneous injection or oral administration of 4-aminodiphenyl produced cancers of the liver, bladder, or mammary glands. Chronic oral administration of 4-aminodiphenyl to dogs caused salivation, loss of body weight, blood in the urine and bladder cancer.”Woods also confirmed the site is still being decontaminated and that DuPont’s primary concern is the safety of its workers, the workers of other facilities at the industrial complex and the community as a whole. He said the cost of the cleanup was not a primary concern for DuPont because the focus and primary goal is to avoid further contamination and stop any of the chemical from getting into the river.
“We still have areas at the site that are barricaded off as we do work to ensure that all of the aniline residue is removed,” Woods said. “What we discovered over the weekend, because initially we thought there was only onsite exposure. But we sent an investigation team to look completely offsite and they did find some small, what is the equivalent of a pinhole dot, in sporadic dots extending 800 feet from our fence line. And we have some industrial neighbors that have some of these dots that is a brownish-orange color on their buildings and in some cases on a car, so we are in the process of cleaning those structures and those vehicles. We have made any runoffs go into our ditches and we will collect that runoff storm water so that it doesn’t get into the river and that plastic sheeting is exactly what you stated; it is in anticipation of the rain so that we can properly clean that up once it stops raining.”
Woods said all of the runoff valves and drains from the site have been sealed off to prevent any of the aniline or 4-ADP from entering the Neches River.
Dr. Matthew Hoke, an environmental microbiologist at Lamar University, said 4-ADP can affect people differently and saying a one-time exposure won’t cause cancer doesn’t seem wise.
“That is a nasty chemical,” Home said. “It is a carcinogen and as a precautionary principle it is best to not be exposed to it at all. From what I have read about this, any exposure is bad. It definitely affects the whole energy production function in your cells. Your electron transport system is what will oxidize it and convert it to a more toxic hydroxyl mean. In fact, that is quite common with a lot of compounds, as once they are metabolized they become more toxic.
“There are a lot of unknowns as to how it will affect a fetus. It will certainly enter the placental wall. It does influence your blood’s ability to carry oxygen, so there are issues with anemia and it has been linked to linked to bladder cancer. I don’t think (Woods’ comment) is a safe call because you don’t know what other predispositions a person has – some are inherited and some are induced. What could be a problem for one person might not be a problem for another – at least not right now.”
Hoke also said 4-ADP has a negative effect on vegetation and aquatic life, as well as having a negative effect on the growth of microbes.
A final report on the spill has not been filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality but the preliminary report had no mention of the 4-ADP compound. The final report is required to be filed 14 days after the spill.
“We have fully reported this to the regulatory agencies, as well as our employees,” Woods said. “We have been talking with them and our industrial neighbors about both aniline and 4-ADP. We still don’t know the specific quantity that was released but we know the reportable quantity for aniline is 5,000 pounds, and it was well below that. I can’t give you a quantity because we are just not sure yet and we still have to do some investigation and understand some different variables to help us calculate the amount that was released.
“Our core value is zero incidents, so this isn’t acceptable to us either. That is why we are putting all the resources we have available from an investigative team standard to better understand what happened, why it happened and so we can prevent this from happening again.”