Toxic gas kills four at Texas chemical manufacturing plant

OSHA has cited a Texas chemical manufacturer for 11 safety violations after a toxic gas release killed four workers.

According to OSHA, the fatal incident occurred as one worker was overwhelmed by methyl mercaptan gas that was unexpectedly released when she opened a drain on a vent line. Two co-workers who attempted to rescue her were also overcome. The three workers were not wearing protective respirators.

A fourth co-worker also died in a rescue attempt.

Methyl mercaptan: What is it?

Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas with a strong odor. It is used in pesticides, jet fuel, and plastics. At dangerous levels of exposure, the gas depresses the central nervous system and affects the respiratory function, leading to death by respiratory paralysis.

The citations included one repeat for not training employees on using the building’s ventilation system and other safety procedures.

Toxic industrial chemicals

The chemical that was released in the Texas incident is part of a category of substances known as toxic industrial chemicals (TICs).

TICs can exist in a gas, liquid, or solid state. The hazards associated with them can be chemical (such as carcinogens, reproductive hazards, or corrosives) or physical (flammable, combustible, explosive, or reactive).

Whether it is in the gas, aerosol, or liquid form TIC enters the body through inhalation, through the skin, or through digestion.

Note: Generally, poisoning occurs more quickly if a chemical enters through the lungs, because of the ability of the substance to rapidly diffuse throughout the body.

TICs are a concern in chemical plants and industrial settings, but they also have the potential to be released by terrorists with extremely serious consequences.

Additional information about the effects of TICs on workers and symptoms of exposure can be found on safety data sheets or on chemical information cards.

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