Incorrect gasket blamed for toxic gas leak at Delaware facility

A leak at Croda's Atlas Point plant near the Delaware Memorial Bridge caused massive delays for motorists and left nearby residents worried about the potential threat to their health. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A leak at Croda's Atlas Point plant near the Delaware Memorial Bridge caused massive delays for motorists and left nearby residents worried about the potential threat to their health. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A faulty gasket at Croda’s Atlas Point facility near New Castle, Delaware is what caused toxic, highly flammable ethylene oxide to leak out on Sunday afternoon, the company says.

The wrong gasket was fitted on one of the pipes during construction of the plant, which opened in October 2017, Croda officials said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. That part failed Sunday causing the leak, which forced some nearby residents to shelter in their homes and the Delaware River and Bay Authority to shut down both sides of the bridge for more than six and a half hours causing massive traffic delays.

“We are sending the gasket to independent experts for analysis and confirmation. Our findings show that no other damage occurred to the ethylene oxide plant,” the company said in the statement.

The plant is still shut down as Croda conducts a “systemic review” of all other equipment on the plant’s pipes. “Until this work is completed, and we, along with regulatory authorities, are confident that the plant can resume safe operations, we will not manufacture ethylene oxide,” the statement said. Officials expect that process to be completed over the next two weeks.

It’s still not clear how much of the gas was released. Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s initial public notification on the leak lists the amount of ethylene oxide released as “N/A.”

No one was injured as a result of the leak, but it created a traffic nightmare for travelers returning from Thanksgiving trips on Sunday evening. The shutdown of the Delaware Memorial Bridge forced thousands of drivers to take detours and created gridlock on nearby roads for several hours.

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