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Vol. 78/No. 43      December 1, 2014

Dupont bosses’ toxic leak in Texas
kills 4 workers, threatens residents
(front page)
LA PORTE, Texas — Family members of two of the workers killed Nov. 15 in a major toxic gas leak at a chemical plant at the Dupont complex here filed lawsuits two days later accusing the company of negligence. The leak also threatened the health and safety of residents in working-class neighborhoods for miles around.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has cited the Dupont facility in La Porte 51 times since 2009, including for failing to prevent pollution leaks and not maintaining thorough records.

Three workers and a supervisor died from the leak from a malfunctioning valve that began about 4 a.m. Nov. 15. Other workers at the 800 acre site were instructed to “shelter in place” while the valve was changed and the gas dissipated. They weren’t able to leave until 4 p.m. The workers who died were Robert Tisnado, his brother Gilbert Tisnado, Crystal Wise and manager Wade Baker. One worker was hospitalized.

The wrongful death suit by Michelle Tisnado, the widow of Gilbert Tisnado, states that the company showed “conscious disregard for the safety of its employees.”

The law firm of Brent Coon, which is representing Wise’s daughter, stated that “once again, we see these companies place their workers in undue harm to pad the bottom line.”

The gas — methyl mercaptan — is used to make insecticides and fungicides and to give natural gas its rotten-egg smell. Exposure can cause respiratory, skin and eye irritation. It can also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma and death, especially in high concentrations.

The odor from the leak spread across La Porte, a town about 20 miles east of Houston, and reached about 40 miles to Rosenberg and Sugar Land.

The company in a statement said the leak “at no time posed a danger to the community.”

“I live in Pasadena and smelled it. I got a headache because it was very strong. Many people got headaches,” José Peña, a truck driver, told the Militant in La Porte the day after the leak.

La Porte convenience store worker Julio Garcia was at home during the chemical release. “There are alarms all over La Porte to let people know of leaks or explosions at the plants nearby and none of them sounded,” he said at the store Nov. 16. “Why didn’t they go off? Why didn’t they let people know there was a leak?”

“You say something, you lose your job,” said Brent Gibson, a welder. “I’ve been working in those plants for 15 years. You can be laid off in an instant.”

“Everybody says the ‘right thing’ about safety at work — they hold safety meetings, even in Spanish. But when you actually get on the job it’s a different story. You see things you know aren’t right. But if you say anything, you’re fired,” José Ezekiel told supporters of the Militant who knocked on his door. He works at an oil refinery for a nonunion contracting company.

Ezekiel pointed to the soot on his house from the flares that burn at nearby plants and other contaminants. “We live with this — the flares, the soot.”
Related articles:
‘We’re workers, not owners’ say port truckers on strike
As dockworkers press safety at congested ports
On the Picket Line
Calif. Walmart workers rally for $15 an hour
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