OSHA Fines Delaware Clam Factory for Explosives

October 26, 2004

Sea Watch International Ltd. has been fined $9,000 by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) because of safety violations at its Milford, Del. clam processing plant where unexploded vintage military explosives have been recovered.

Citations issued Oct. 13 accuse the company of exposing employees “to explosion, skin contact and inhalation hazards due to military ordnance being discovered during the processing and packing operations.”

“There must have been a higher authority looking out for the employees,” said OSHA spokeswoman Kate Dugan, of the agency’s Philadelphia office. “They were exposed to potential explosions.”

Sea Watch also was charged with having no emergency response plan to deal with ordnance found during the clam sorting and shucking process.

The charges stem from the discovery of corroded munitions mixed in with discarded clamshells recovered from the plant and sold to pave driveways by Milford-area trucker Perry Butler.

Dugan said Sea Watch has 15 working days to pay the fine, fix the hazard, formally contest or request an informal conference with OSHA officials.

Sea Watch attorney Tom Ausalspach said the company plans to meet with OSHA because “We want to make sure we have the best system in place.”

OSHA is requiring the company to pass a detector wand over every cage of clams arriving at the plant before processing and to X-ray each cage to ensure no metal is present, and to notify the state police and Dover Air Force Base to remove any ordnance found.

Between Feb. 5 and July 19, residents in southern Delaware who bought the crushed clamshells from Butler began finding assorted grenades, missiles and other unexploded devices in their driveways.

By July 19, Dover Air Force Base bomb technicians had destroyed 100 of the unstable and potentially dangerous devices.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control launched joint investigations after three Dover Air Force bomb technicians were hospitalized after coming into contact with mustard gas while trying to disarm a 75 mm projectile recovered from a Bridgeville driveway.

The cleanup effort, which could cost the government as much as $20 million, is expected to continue through November.

Army Corps project manager Robert Williams Jr. said that 150 grenades have been recovered from driveways, including that of clamshell hauler Perry Butler.

Ausalspach said the company is trying to resolve the problems for the safety of its plant employees.

He said a person has been added to inspect the cages of clams when they arrive at the plant. The company also installed a disposal container recommended by the Army Corps to hold ordnance found in the plant.

Company officials said they are exploring buying a metal detector, which would cost $15,000 or more, to stop the conveyor line if any metal is detected.

“We’ve been trying to develop a policy, not simply identifying (the ordnance) when they get there, but how to dispose of them when they arrive,” Ausalspach said.

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