By Erwin Seba
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Four workers killed at a DuPont and Co’s chemical plant in Texas on Saturday did not have access to safety equipment like respirators when there was a deadly release of a hazardous chemical, an attorney for one victim’s family said on Thursday.
The enclosed five-story tall building where methyl mercaptan was released may also not have had working ventilation fans at the time of the incident, attorney Brent Coon said.
"This is your typical, beat-up fertilizer plant that does not have up-to-date safety equipment," Coon said in telephone interview about the unit where the leak occurred in the La Porte plant.
A DuPont representative did not reply to a request for comment about Coon's statements.
Between eight and 12 workers were in the building when the leak began, Coon said. Some escaped. Others did not.
Coon, a lead attorney in suits against BP Plc over a deadly 2005 refinery explosion, is representing the daughter of Crystle Rae Wise, whose body was found on a stairwell leading from the unit’s third floor.
"We're guessing she was trying to get to shelter when she was overcome," he said.
Coon said, based on interviews with co-workers at the plant, that when an alarm went off after a problem was detected in the unit, Gilbert Tisnado grabbed three emergency air packs offering 3-5 minutes of contained air and ran inside. He gave one of the packs to a worker leaving the unit.
Gilbert Tisnado found his brother Robert, who worked on the unit, but the air pack did not help him. Their bodies were found together. A supervisor, Wade Baker, also died in the release.
One worker was briefly hospitalized on Saturday before being released.
The Harris County coroner determined this week that the deaths were accidental due to asphyxia with exposure to chemicals including methyl mercaptan.
DuPont has said it is cooperating with federal inquiries into the leak, contained after it started at 4 a.m. CST) on Saturday.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mercaptan "exposure in poorly ventilated, enclosed, or low-lying areas can result in asphyxiation." Mercaptan is heavier than air.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Terry Wade and Andrew Hay)