Dangerous Chemical Spill Investigated At GM's Ultium Cells Plant

A chemical spill at General Motors’ Ultium Cells battery plant in Warren, Ohio, is being investigated by federal regulators.

Officials from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) confirmed the investigation to The Detroit News. According to photos and video of the incident obtained by the publication, a slurry containing battery materials and a hazardous solvent leaked over the weekend, spilling a black substance on the ground in the Warren factory’s mixing department.

Ultium Cells, which is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, said in a statement on August 21 that no employees were exposed or injured in the spill. The company added that area mixing operations have been temporarily halted and that a third-party company helped clean up and contain the leak. 

Ultium Cells spokesperson Katie Burdette told The Detroit News that operations will remain paused until the area “has been inspected for damage and deemed safe.” It remains to be seen how the stoppage will impact GM’s production of battery cells and battery packs.

The company reported the incident to OSHA, which opened an investigation. The agency will collect details about what happened, what Ultium Cells did to address the issue, and whether employees are still at risk, OSHA spokesperson Scott Allen said. He added that OSHA is still investigating the extent of any exposure from the spill.

Gallery: Ultium Cells LLC Battery Plant in Lordstown, Ohio

The slurry that leaked contained n-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), according to OSHA. NMP is a solvent used to dissolve polymer that combines battery materials such as lithium, aluminum, nickel and manganese for use in batteries. According to the US EPA, NMP presents “an unreasonable risk” to human health.

Despite that, there is no federal permissible exposure limit for the chemical under OSHA. NMP is particularly harmful for reproduction as short-term exposure can cause fetal loss and long-term exposure can reduce overall fertility in both men and women.

The EPA says NMP is risky in nearly every stage of use, from import and processing to commercial and consumer use and disposal. The substance can also impact the nervous system and cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and drowsiness in the short term. In the long term, it has more significant impacts, such as difficulty concentrating, memory loss, depression, anxiety, and irritability.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union released a very critical white paper in July about conditions at the plant, arguing the facility had “hazardous conditions and low wages” and that companies fostering such conditions should not get generous federal subsidies. Ultium Cells said the union’s characterization of safety concerns at the plant is “knowingly false and misleading.”

The Warren plant is the first of three Ultium Cells facilities planned by GM and LG Energy Solution. A plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, will open later this year, while a third factory is under construction in Delta Township near Lansing and will open in 2024.

Source: The Detroit News

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