Delaware environmental regulators have fined a chemical manufacturer $246,000 for permit violations that led to the release of more than a ton of a highly flammable gas in November and forced the closure of the Delaware Memorial Bridge for seven hours Thanksgiving weekend.
The release of nearly 2,700 pounds of ethylene oxide occurred on one of the busiest travel days of the year, the Sunday after the holiday. The leak also forced many residents of the nearby New Castle area to stay in their homes. The company’s system to prevent fire or explosions also spilled more than 700,000 gallons of deluge water into the ground and a wooded area.
The accident occurred at Croda Inc.’s Atlas Point plant at the base of the twin span connecting Delaware and New Jersey. Croda Inc. is part of Croda International, headquartered in Great Britain.
The Delaware plant, which is now closed pending the state’s approval to resume operations, makes ethylene oxide, which is used to produce compounds that promote mixing of oil- and water-based ingredients in consumer products such as pharmaceuticals and shaving cream.
No one was injured, but five plant workers sought medical evaluation in the days after the release and one was hospitalized for three days as a precautionary measure, state officials said.
Regulators also said the release did not appear to adversely affect air quality in the New Castle-area community near the plant.
Ethylene oxide “would be expected to disperse and break down relatively quickly once released into the atmosphere. Any risk to the public would have decreased significantly, if not completely, shortly after the end of the release – this is not a scenario that we would expect any lingering or long-term effects,” according to a question-and-answer sheet released by the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Regulators are also monitoring groundwater and soil to determine if any ethylene oxide is present, officials said.
The company found that the leak occurred because of the failure of a gasket made of “unsuitable material for processing” ethylene oxide, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which announced the penalty agreement with Croda late Thursday.
Under the deal, Croda was cited for air and water quality violations and agreed to correct all violations to the state’s satisfaction before resuming production.
The $170 million plant had opened in October 2017 amid great fanfare and praise by Gov. John Carney and others.
“I can’t think of a better facility to have now at the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which is really a gateway to Delaware, which essentially says, ‘This is a state where innovative science-based companies like Croda want to set up,’” Carney said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“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, to have a tax and regulatory environment that’s conducive to businesses wanting to locate here, and to have a great workforce.”