A crowd of 75 residents were at McCullough Middle School in New Castle, Delaware to get an update from Croda officials and state environmental regulators on the investigation into a leak of ethylene oxide in November. The leak forced some residents to shelter in their homes and caused the closure of the Delaware Memorial Bridge for more than six hours on the Sunday night after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year.
“We feel the stress that we put on the community. We’re not happy about that,” said Rob Stewart, managing director of operations for Croda. “We need to rebuild their trust and make sure that we do this right [because] this is never going to happen again under my watch.”
Stewart said the leak released 2,600 pounds of ethylene oxide, a highly-flammable chemical. Crews poured more than one million gallons of water onto the site of the leak to limit the possibility of fire and to keep it from spreading into the air. Stewart says the company doesn’t believe the community was at any risk.
Some residents expressed anger over not being notified in a timely fashion of the leak and of the potential danger Croda’s Atlas Point plant posed to the area. One woman told the panel, “It’s not acceptable to dump something into our air, our environment and say, ‘oh at least we did a good job trying to contain it.’ You got to do better than that.”
Bill Dunn of the New Castle County Civic League questioned the placement of the facility. “It is a very dangerous operation to put at that location. You are 2,600 feet from the first span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge,” Dunn said.
Stewart says he understands why residents are upset. “We firmly feel that there was no offsite concentrations of ethylene oxide, but that surely is not going to be acceptable to people who have children and homes in this community,” Dunn said. “We want them to feel safe living in their homes and we’re going to do everything we can, and that’s our commitment.”
The plant is still idle as workers inspect the facility for any other possible wrongly installed parts. Stewart said they are examining gaskets, pumps, valves and other items as a precaution. Out of 450 gaskets in the area of the leak, the company has checked 90 percent and has not found another bad gasket. “We’re not just stopping here. We want to make sure that everything is right, so we’re rechecking everything on the site.”
He said the plant will not resume manufacturing of ethylene oxide until they are confident it is safe to run.
The company has also established a hotline that residents can call for information during an emergency. That number is 302-429-5474. Residents can also sign up to be alerted by the state’s emergency notification system at dema.delaware.gov/services/DENS.shtml.
The state is still investigating the incident. There’s no timetable for when that investigation will be complete.