Fluoride Action Network

Clearing the air in Kentucky

Source: Process Engineering | August 1st, 2003

DuPont is to pay $550,000 in civil penalties and perform eight Supplemental Environmental Projects (‘SEPs’) in a proposed settlement valued at $552,000 for Clean Air Act violations that involved a chemical release from its fluoroproducts plant in Louisville, KY in May 1997.

The SEPs include providing emergency response equipment and training for local emergency planning committees as well as providing a ‘green’ buffer zone between the DuPont facility and the surrounding area.

DuPont manufactures many chemicals at its Louisville facility, including 1,1 difluoroethane (‘DFE’). DuPont produces the DFE by reacting anhydrous hydrogen fluoride and acetylene in a large reactor.

On May 19, 1997, while using pressurised steam in an attempt to clean a blocked valve in the discharge pipeline from the DFE reactor to another reactor, workers at the facility blew out the valve, resulting in the release of a high pressure stream of hydrogen fluoride into the air both inside and outside the facility. DuPont was unable to contain or block the release for approximately 40 minutes. During that time, virtually all of the contents of the DFE reactor, including approximately 11,500 pounds of hydrogen fluoride, escaped into the air.

The escaping hydrogen fluoride formed a toxic cloud of gas which migrated from the facility. As a result, four nearby chemical manufacturing plants were shut down and evacuated for several hours, and local public health and safety officials directed nearby residents and school children to stay indoors until the public health threat from the hydrogen fluoride abated.

DuPont violated the US Clean Air Act by failing to identify the hazards associated with an accidental release of hydrogen fluoride during maintenance activities in connection with production of DFE at the facility. It also did not design and maintain a pipeline and valve system for the DFE reactor to prevent releases of hydrogen fluoride during maintenance activities. Lastly, it failed to minimise the consequences of the release of approximately 11,500 pounds of hydrogen fluoride.