Chemical company fined £200,000 following toxic chemical release

A company maintenance technician unintentionally opened a valve on top of an isotanker at Syngenta Ltd’s Huddersfield plant resulting in the release of between 3.5 and 3.8 tonnes of paraquat dichloride solution.

Paraquat dichloride is a potentially dangerous fast-acting herbicide solution. It is also toxic to humans and animals and has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

The employee was immediately sprayed with the paraquat dichloride on his face and upper body. Fortunately he was wearing safety glasses and did not swallow any of the substance. He was only feet away from an emergency drench shower where he went immediately to wash off the solution and suffered no injury. Mr Slack told the court ingesting  just 5 to 10 millilitres of paraquat dichloride could be potentially fatal.

The HSE prosecuted the company over the incident.

Syngenta Ltd of Leeds Road Huddersfield pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control Of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 and Regulation 5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £200,000 with £13,041 costs by Leeds Crown Court.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Angus Robbins commented, “Serious incidents can occur when failures in risk reduction measures coincide. Such failures are foreseeable and would have been identified and controlled by effective risk assessment and application of risk measure controls. This incident could have been prevented if Syngenta had properly assessed the real risk of the valve being opened while the tank was under pressure”

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