Chlorine Chemical leak due to worker error: Corporate blame game should not go unnoticed

Posted Saturday, February 17, 2007 by Ed Harper

According to Tacoma News Tribune, a worker at a Tacoma chemical plant released between 900 to almost 1300 pounds of chlorine gas into the air. This required emergency responders – firefighters – to cap the leak.

The company blamed the worker.

“It was more or less operator error,” said George Karscig, manager of the Pioneer Americas plant at 2001 Thorne Road. “There was no equipment failure involved in the release.” Several investigating agencies will be looking into the incident. According to the Tacoma News Tribune 2/17/07 article,

“In addition to the company’s internal investigation, state and federal officials are investigating, officials said. The state Department of Labor and Industries and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have begun looking into the accident. Labor and Industrial officials also have notified the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, officials said.”

In essence, the company has admitted to its own negligence by pointing their finger at their own worker. Through the legal principle of “respondeat superior” or “let the master answer”, defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, the employer is responsible for the mistakes of their workers. Provided the worker was working within the course and scope of his employment. Clearly, this worker was doing his duties.

Based on a 1993 EPA study, Washington had 10% of the 40 locations nationwide where chlorine is processed. Chlorine is used in variety of situations from cleaning products to wood pulp products. Environmental and safety concerns abound based on the hazardous nature of chlorine gas. If only exposed to a minor amount, recovery can be quick and complete.

However, exposure to a large amount of chlorine gas can be life-threatening. According to the study, Chlorine is a primary irritant to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat and to the linings of the entire respiratory tract (Stokinger 1982). The extent of acute injury to humans depends on the concentration and duration of exposure as well as the water content of the tissue involved and the presence of underlying cardiopulmonary disease (HSDB 1994). http://www.epa.gov/chemfact/s_chlori.txt.

The safety of our citizens and our workers should be of paramount concern to us as a society. Corporate blame should focus on their own failures, rather than trying to blame their own workers in an attempt to shift their responsibility. Choices were made by this company which caused this incident to occur and justice will only be served to investigate and punish the company for their poor choices.

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