Chemical processor fined nearly $480,000 for exposing workers to toxic gases

by Staff report
| October 19, 2023 1:00 AM

TUMWATER — A manufacturing company in Moses Lake that works with dangerous chemicals is facing nearly $480,000 in fines for safety violations, according to a statement from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

L&I cited and fined Two Rivers Terminal in July for seven willful serious violations, seven serious violations and four general violations, including having a worker unload molten sulfur from a railcar without wearing the proper respiratory protection, according to the statement.

Two Rivers formulates products for agricultural fertilizer, airports, pulp and paper, and water treatment. In addition to Moses Lake, the company has plants in Pasco and Umatilla, Oregon.

During a Jan. 2023 investigation, L&I inspectors found that an employee who had been working on top of a railcar became incapacitated and fell to the ground after being exposed to the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide, the statement said. The worker suffered serious injuries. He was not wearing a hydrogen sulfide gas monitor, respiratory protection or fall protection.

At the time of the incident, the worker had a full beard that would not allow the proper seal of a respirator, L&I reported. Personal hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide monitors were not issued to employees until the day after the fall.

Company management also said the process for unloading molten sulfur changed from unloading tank trucks to unloading railcars a few months prior to the incident, but they hadn’t done any assessment for how dangerous the new process might be, according to the statement.

“It’s hard to overstate how serious a risk they were taking with their workers’ lives,” Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health., wrote in the statement. “We’re focusing our enforcement efforts on making sure Two Rivers is doing everything it must to ensure its workers return home safely at the end of the day.”

Stop order

On Jan. 26, L&I inspectors issued an Order of Immediate Restraint, according to the statement, stopping work at the molten sulfur railcar unload area until the company took specific steps to make their workers safer, including providing respirators and ensuring they fit and were used properly. The order was lifted Feb. 6.

On Feb. 16, inspectors returned to perform a walkthrough of the railcar unload area and sulfur forming unit, the statement said. Here, they observed and photographed a Two Rivers Terminal worker loosening the bolts to a manway hatch on a molten sulfur railcar. One inspector said he could see a bluish/white plume of smoke, hear the hiss of gas escaping from the manway hatch, and he could hear multiple alarms coming from employee’s hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide monitor. The inspector concluded that just loosening the bolts on the manway hatch allows toxic gas to escape, substantiating the willful violations found during the initial inspection.

Repeat offender

Two Rivers was previously cited for more than 60 safety violations following an Oct. 2022 inspection, the statement said. Six of the recent willful violations are for hazards that were not fixed from the 2022 citations.

The company is appealing both the 2022 and 2023 citations. Fines paid from citations go into the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job, according to L&I.