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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the hours before a fatal Jan. 23 phosgene leak at the DuPont Co. plant in Belle, company officials were scrambling to fix problems with the phosgene tanks and hoses involved in the accident, according to a newly released DuPont investigation report.
The day before the leak, DuPont was having trouble with pressure from one of two phosgene cylinders that supplies the chemical building block to a pesticide production unit, according to the report.
DuPont replaced the supply hose on one of the two tanks when it discovered damage that had been covered up by a manufacturer's label, but apparently missed similar damage on the other tank's hose, which eventually leaked, the report said.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 23, longtime plant worker Danny Fish was sprayed with phosgene as he conducted a safety check inside a shed where DuPont keeps the phosgene supply cylinders.
DuPont initially said Fish was transported to a local hospital "for treatment and observation as part of the standard protocol for exposure to this material." Fish died the following day.
Phosgene is a valuable building block for making other chemicals and DuPont uses it to produce various crop protection chemicals. But, it is also extremely toxic. It was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, and is considered dangerous even in very tiny levels.
Previously, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has said the braided-wire phosgene hose that leaked at DuPont showed signs of serious wear, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency reported that it was long overdue to be replaced.
But the new DuPont report provides the most details to date of what happened leading up to the fatal leak that has prompted numerous federal investigations and led Sen. Robert C. Byrd to say he was "alarmed" by safety lapses at the Belle plant.
Last week, DuPont provided a copy of its internal report to various regulatory agencies. Initially, the company insisted that 24 entire pages of the 31-page document contained "confidential business information" that could not be released.
The Gazette-Mail asked the state Department of Environmental Protection for a copy of the entire report. DEP officials reviewed it, and questioned DuPont's broad claim for confidentiality. Earlier this week, DuPont withdrew most of its claims for confidentiality and DEP provided a copy of the complete report.
According to the report, DuPont had begun mixing a batch of chemicals at about 10:45 a.m. the day before the leak. But the flow of phosgene from one of the two tanks -- the one referred to as the "hillside" cylinder -- was "insufficient."