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Chemical Unit Reopens After Leak, Obstacles

Friday, February 7, 2020

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United Kingdom-based specialty chemical company Croda has recently reopened its Atlas Point surfactants plant located at the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle, Delaware.

The news comes more than a year after the plant experienced a toxic gas leak on Nov. 25, 2018. According to reports, the incident stopped holiday traffic for several hours and the compan was required to implement improvements set forth by state and federal investigators.

About the Gas Leak

In the afternoon of Nov. 25, 2018, Croda employees discovered an ethylene oxide leak within the plant. Traditionally, the chemical is used to manufacture other chemicals, sterilize medical devices and is also used as a fumigant. However, the chemical properties of the gas are highly toxic.

By 4 p.m., a Hazmat crew responded to the site. Upon arrival, the crew set up more than 3,000 feet of hoses to spray water into the air to dissipate the chemical gas. The endeavor reportedly kept the vapor low to the ground, giving Croda employees time to transfer the remaining gas to a secure tank.

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United Kingdom-based specialty chemical company Croda has recently reopened its Atlas Point surfactants plant located at the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle, Delaware.

During the emergency response operation, approximately 700,000 gallons of deluge water overflowed the spill sump, which was then discharged onto the ground and into the area behind the sump.

Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control officials on the scene then closed he valves in order to secure the area.

At the time of the incident, Delaware DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin reported that the ethylene oxide leak was causing two threats: potential health hazards for those breathing in the chemical and the risk of the gas catching fire and spreading to vehicles stopped on the interstate.

According to the American Chemistry Council, explosions from ethylene oxide vapor clouds, or from the chemical catching on fire itself, can have widespread and devastating impacts.

However, Delaware Memorial Bridge structure above the plant did not appear to be at risk.

After an investigation, Delaware environmental regulators reported that more than 2,600 pounds of ethylene oxide had been released due to a failing gasket. DNREC stated that the gasket material was unsuitable for ethylene oxide processing.

Fines, Inspections and Repairs

In March 2019, the chemical manufacturing company had been ordered to pay a $230,000 penalty to the state of Delaware and $16,500 to cover the cost of air and water tests, renovations and monitoring work before the plant could reopen.

Additionally, Croda also paid $246,739 in fines and penalties after being found at fault for the gas leak incident. In addition to the fines, Corda was also required to pay Delaware River and Bay Authority nearly $150,000 in lost tolls.

The settlement order also pointed out that Croda had just started processing the chemical onsite and began operations without first receiving the state’s stamp of approval. Due to this lack of inspection and finalizations, the plant was also reported to have ceased chemical production immediately following the incident.

Croda “risked the health of their workers,” said Erin G. Patterson, director of the OSHA office in Wilmington, in a written statement at that time. Patterson added that the leak “could have been prevented if the employer had taken appropriate precautions.”

Improvements required by the state and federal agencies included monitoring efforts, remediation where the water overflowed and various maintenance practices.

What’s Happening Now

For the first time since the incident, Croda was cleared to continue operations after regulators were satisfied and all issues were fixed.

“We have now restarted EO production operations,” said Croda Marketing Director Cara Eaton. “We will be progressively increasing our capacity to full operation levels. We continue to receive and use ethylene oxide from other suppliers for the time being, as [the plant’s owners] have safely done for more than eight decades.”

The Atlas Point surfactants plant currently employs 250 people and hopes that the return to manufacturing ethylene oxide onsite will inspire new investments that could keep aging petrochemical industries intact.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Air quality; Business operations; Construction chemicals; Gas detectors; Health and safety; Manufacturing Plant; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Safety

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