Company promising to get to bottom of chemical leak that closed Delaware Memorial Bridge Sunday

This photo provided by Lashrecse Aird shows traffic jam and an electric message sign indicating,

This photo provided by Lashrecse Aird shows traffic jam and an electric message sign indicating, "All Lanes Closed," near the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Jersey., Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. A chemical leak shut down the bridge in both directions Sunday evening, bringing traffic on a major East Coast artery to a standstill on one of the busiest travel days of the year. (Lashrecse Aird via AP)

For six and a half hours Sunday night, no cars crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge that links Delaware and New Jersey. It’s the longest both spans of the bridge have been shuttered in at least 27 years, according to bridge spokesman Jim Salmon. “I’ve been working at the DRBA for 27 years and it’s the longest continuous closure of both spans during this time frame,” Salmon posted on Twitter.

The bridge was closed following a leak of ethylene oxide from Croda’s Atlas Point manufacturing facility which sits just to the south of the New Jersey-bound span. The leak happened around 4:15 Sunday afternoon.

Thousands of drivers were forced into hours-long backups on the final day of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year. Some took to social media to express their frustrations, one woman said she traveled just six miles in two hours. “What a nightmare,” said another. “The drive from Jersey to Baltimore is usually 3hrs, we’ve been in the car for 5 and we’re still 87 miles away. I have literally never seen traffic this bad,” wrote another traveler on Twitter.

The company issued a statement once the leak was contained and the highway was reopened around 11:30 p.m. Sunday. “We deeply regret the significant inconvenience that this has had on the community and those traveling nearby,” the statement said. Monday morning, another statement from the company said workers are preparing an inspection of the plant to investigate what went wrong. “As we start our in-depth investigation, we will be supported by experts both within and outside of our organization to ensure that we understand the cause of this incident and how we can prevent it from happening again,” the statement said.   

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The Croda plant was built starting in 2015 at a cost of $170 million. When it opened in October 2017, it was hailed as the first bio-ethylene oxide plant built in the U.S. to produce renewable, bio-based surfactants used in products such as antifreeze and some processed foods. It’s also used in the natural-gas fracking process.

Delaware Gov. John Carney helped Croda leaders cut the ribbon on the new facility in 2017. “I can’t think of a better facility to have now at the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge,” Carney said at the time. “You could have gone anywhere, anywhere around the world. When we think of the things we need to do on the government side to attract businesses and keep businesses here, chief among them is to have strong successful businesses,” he said last year.

Croda’s managing director for operations at the New Castle site, Robert Stewart, praised the company’s safety record at that 2017 opening event. “We run our plants safely, we don’t want people to get hurt,” he said. “We’ve been able to work a little more than 650,000 work hours in a very difficult environment, in the winter, in the summer, and no one has been hurt on this project,” Stewart said in 2017.

There were no injuries reported as a result of Sunday’s leak, but one worker sought medical attention as a precaution and is currently under observation as of Monday morning, according to a Croda statement. “We would like to reassure the public that gas levels were independently monitored during and after the incident and we can confirm that there was no point at which there was an unsafe level detected.”

Ethylene oxide is extremely flammable and explosive when mixed with air.

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