HOUSTON (Reuters) — Four workers who died on Nov. 15 at a DuPont plant in Texas were accidentally asphyxiated by chemicals, the coroner's office said, another finding that suggests the victims were not wearing full safety equipment.
The workers were overcome by methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to give natural gas its rotten-egg smell and for making insecticides and plastics.
A DuPont spokesman declined to say if the victims were caught by surprise by the chemical or sent to repair a leak in a unit that officials have described as an enclosed, five-story structure.
The spokesman also declined to comment when asked if the workers were wearing personal protective equipment, including respirators. DuPont said both issues are under investigation.
But the Harris County Medical Examiner's office previously said coveralls were the only clothing mentioned in preliminary autopsy reports.
Families of the victims filed lawsuits against DuPont this week.
The plant, located in a cluster of refineries and chemical plants 42 km from downtown Houston, had a history of environmental infractions.
But it had no record of safety violations, according to information available from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).
The CSB has said it has investigated accidents at four other DuPont facilities, including a 2010 phosgene release at a DuPont Plant in Belle, W. Va., that killed one person and an accident that same year at a DuPont facility outside of Buffalo, N.Y., that killed a worker.