WASHINGTON — Union Carbide Corp. agreed Friday to pay a record $408,500 fine for contested health and safety violations, settling a landmark case involving two West Virginia plants, including one where the company was accused of exposing unprotected workers to a deadly gas.
The nation's fourth-largest chemical company denied violating the law. But it said resolving the case and agreeing to pay a reduced fine was cheaper than continuing to fight charges of more than 500 violations filed against it last year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA originally fined the company $1,377,300 for 221 violations, including 127 described as "willful" or deliberate disregard of the law, at its chemical plant in Institute, W. Va. Later, another $90,000 in fines were levied for 335 alleged "willful" violations at a Union Carbide plant in South Charleston, W. Va.
Under the agreement, the company "accepts responsibility but does not admit guilt," Terry Mikelson, an OSHA spokesman, said. But he said the "willful" characterization of the violations also stands, including one that accused managers at the Institute plant of requiring workers to "sniff" for deadly phosgene gas when alarms indicated a leak.
A Union Carbide spokesman said the company denies breaking the law and that "we particularly dispute OSHA's contention that any of our employees were required to be exposed to phosgene."