Specialty chemicals giant Momentive Performance Materials is facing an $81,000 federal fine for an explosion and fire that severely burned two employees and risked a catastrophic chemical release earlier this year.
Momentive Performance Chemicals
|Momentive Performance Chemicals’ many products include coating resins for industrial applications.|
A year after citing the company for multiple chemical safety violations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a new series of citations stemming from the flash fire May 25 at Momentive's Fumed Silica operation in Waterford, NY.
As it did in 2010, OSHA found fault with multiple facets of the company’s Process Safety Management (PSM) of highly hazardous chemicals, from inspection violations to a post-investigation report “that did not include the factors that contributed to the incident.”
Fumed Silica is used as, among other things, a thickener in paints and coatings and a filler in silicone elastomer.
Momentive said in a statement that it had been cooperating with OSHA and had met with the agency Nov. 22 to discuss the inspection results.
Momentive said was “reviewing OSHA’s findings” and expected to meet with OSHA “in the near future to discuss resolution of these alleged violations.”
In addition, the company said it had completed its own investigation into the fire and had “implemented changes to address the issues identified in that investigation.” It did not elaborate.
Momentive said it had “an extensive and well-established employee health and safety program at the facility, and remains committed to protecting the health and safety of its employees and the surrounding community.”
‘Catastrophic Release’ Potential
According to OSHA documents, the May explosion, in Building 68, “could have reasonably resulted in a catastrophic release of highly hazardous chemicals.”
The two workers, Michael Deshaw and Michael Stephanowicz, are still recovering from their injuries. A local tavern hosted a fundraiser for them in September.
In all, OSHA issued eight serious and one repeat violation to the former GE Silicones facility for the May explosion.
The allegations paint a picture of short shrift given to hazard analysis, contingencies and control.
Among the serious violations alleged:
• Momentive’s process hazard analysis was “not appropriate to the complexity of the process” and did not identify, evaluate and address the hazards involved.
• The analysis did not consider the consequences of failed engineering and administrative controls.
• The Fumed Silica operating manual did not outline backup procedures for various lapses in normal operations.
• Safe work practices were not developed for controlling hazards during confined-space entry, lockout/tagout and other operations.
• Written procedures were not developed for several maintenance and inspection operations.
• Inspections and testing were conducted less frequently than recommended by manufacturers and good engineering practice.
• Deficiencies in equipment were not corrected.
• Written procedures were not developed to manage changes to chemicals, technology, equipment, procedures and affected facilities.
• The company’s post-investigation report of the accident did not address all factors that contributed to the accident.
The repeat violation, which carried a $25,000 fine, alleges that Momentive did not review operating procedures as often as necessary to assure that they reflected current practice and any changes. OSHA cited Momentive for the same violation in 2010.
After the fire, IUE-CWA 81359 union president Dominick Patrignani told the local newspaper that the union had repeatedly expressed concern about work conditions. Momentive drew the union’s wrath in 2009 when it cut hourly wages at the factory by an average of 25 percent.
“This is so tragic,” Patrignani told The Saratogian. “We’ve been filing complaint after complaint about safety. Unfortunately, this was coming. I hope our issues will now be addressed.”
Momentive’s 2010 case with OSHA remains open. That case involves a $36,000 fine and eight serious citations, issued in October stemming from an inspection in April. That inspection was triggered by a complaint, records show.
Most of the citations involve violations of the Process Safety Management standards for highly hazardous chemicals that exposed 22 employees to risk.
Momentive Performance Materials was spun off in 2006 from GE Advanced Materials. Based in Columbus, OH, the company produces a wide range of adhesives, sealants, coating resins, additives and other products for the protective coatings and construction industries.
In 2010, Momentive Performance Materials Inc. merged with Hexion Specialty Chemicals Inc., creating a global network for specialty chemicals and materials with annual sales projected at $7.5 billion.
The merger, announced in September 2010 and finalized Oct. 1, created one of the world’s largest specialty chemicals and materials enterprises, with 117 production facilities and more than 10,000 associates.
The new enterprise retained the Momentive name.