Flintshire firms fined £120,000 for exposing staff to chemicals

One victim, Nigel Verdon, suffered brain damage in one toxic leak

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Two former Flintshire pharmaceuticals firms have been fined £120,000 after staff fell ill when exposed to dangerous chemicals.

Archimica Chemicals admitted six health and safety charges while Euticals admitted two charges brought by Natural Resources Wales.

Euticals took over the Sandycroft site from Archimica but Mold Crown Court heard that both firms have gone bust.

One worker, Nigel Verdon, was left with brain damage in the chemical leak.

He said his "life has been turned upside down" since he fell ill.

Start Quote

I went out to provide for and support my family - as I have always done - and was stopped in my tracks”

End Quote Nigel Verdon Former Euticals worker

Father-of-two Mr Verdon from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, said his mobility and speech has been affected since working at the former factory.

He was exposed to the chemical methyl iodide, which is used in the pesticide industry.

However, it is toxic if inhaled, or crucially, absorbed through the skin.

In a statement issued on his behalf after hearing, he said: "The future for me is very uncertain.

"The injuries I sustained prevent me from being the person I was.

"I had 25 years of work and achievements to look forward to and this has all been taken away from me."

Brain damage

Mr Verdon was exposed to the chemical just six weeks after starting at the Euticals factory as an agency worker.

While he was provided with an air-fed respiratory mask and protective boots, he had no overalls.

When gas leaked from equipment that had an unsecured bolt, the chemical was in contact with his skin.

The worker suffered a seizure at the factory, and was treated for brain blood clots in intensive care at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

He has been left with brain damage, mobility and speech problems and is in constant pain.

"I went out to provide for and support my family - as I have always done - and was stopped in my tracks," he said in a statement following the court case.

SAFETY BREACHES DATELINE

  • November 2011: Methyl iodide released into the atmosphere as a result of poorly written procedures which failed to identify when a safety critical valve should be open.
  • February 2012: Agency worker exposed to methyl iodide after being provided with inadequate respiratory protection. He spent three weeks in hospital with iodine poisoning which has left him with long lasting effects, including depression, headaches and speech difficulties.
  • June/July 2012: Worker was exposed three times to methyl iodide as a result of inadequate decontamination training. He was treated in hospital for a full body rash and blisters on his wrist and ankles. He returned to work but again developed the same symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with occupational dermatitis.
  • 26 July 2012: Agency worker almost died from a pulmonary embolism after being exposed to methyl iodide while training. HSE found he had been issued with poorly fitted respiratory protection. In hospital for three months and left with permanent impairment to his speech, memory and mobility. He remains prone to seizures with a high risk of deep vein thrombosis.
  • November 2012: Three workers were exposed to dichloromethane (DCM), a hazardous substance with narcotic and possible carcinogenic effects that are potentially fatal. One of the men was unconscious and all three were taken to hospital.
  • Source: Health and Safety Executive

"Euticals failed to show any concern about my family's welfare or how they were managing.

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Start Quote

These individuals suffered serious, incapacitating life-changing injuries, the scars of which they continue to carry and will carry for the rest of their lives”

End Quote Judge Philip Hughes

Production at the factory was stopped in November last year after safety inspectors found a substantial quantity of the chemical Isosorbide Dinitrate, commonly known as ISDN, at the factory.

It is used as part of treatments for patients with the heart condition, angina.

However, it is also considered to be a potentially explosive substance.

By last June a "vast amount" of the chemicals had been removed from the site, said Flintshire council.

It cost the council more than £100,000 to clean-up at the factory.

Judge Philip Hughes imposed total fines of £120,000 after rejecting claims on behalf of the liquidator that nominal fines should be imposed.

Archimica was fined £80,000 and its agent company Euticals was fined £40,000.

"These individuals suffered serious, incapacitating life-changing injuries, the scars of which they continue to carry and will carry for the rest of their lives. It is very serious," added the judge.

HSE Inspector Mark Burton, said after the hearing that the multiple failings were "extremely serious and could have had even more devastating consequences".

Mr Burton added: "Two of those exposed to methyl iodide have been left with permanent, life-changing after effects.

"The lack of competent management, control and understanding of the site's major hazard and chemical processes could have led to these being fatal investigations, as could the incident to the workers who were exposed to methylene chloride."

Also speaking after the hearing, Mr Verdon's solicitor, Matthew Clayton added: "Now that the criminal proceedings against the company have concluded, we can look to pursue a further interim payment to meet much-needed care costs and also ensure that Nigel can move to more suitable ground floor accommodation in view of his physical limitations.

"Although we welcome the sentence today as it marks an important step in holding those responsible for Nigel's injuries to account, there is still a long way to go before the full impact of this incident on Nigel and his family can be assessed."

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