GM’s Ultium Cells battery plant under investigation over chemical spill

Key Points

  • 😷 Ultium Cells LLC’s battery plant in Ohio, owned by GM, is being investigated by federal regulators after a chemical spill incident.
  • 🕵️‍♂️ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is looking into the incident and the plant’s response, including potential risks to employees.
  • 🧪 The spill involved n-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), a chemical used in cathode production, posing potential health risks.
  • 🛑 Mixing operations at the plant have been stopped temporarily, and third-party assistance was used to clean up the spill.
  • 🚫 United Auto Workers (UAW) criticized GM for prioritizing profit over worker safety at Ultium Cells.
  • 📣 Ultium Cells claims to have proper safety procedures in place and praised its team’s response to the incident.

General Motors’ Ultium Cells LLC battery plant in Warren, Ohio, is currently under investigation by federal regulators following a chemical spill at the facility. Ultium has noted that no employees were exposed or injured due to the incident.  

The chemical spill was reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Monday. An investigation is underway, with OHSA set to collect details of the incident, such as Ultium Cells’ response to the spill and whether the plant’s employees are still at risk. OHSA is investigating the extent of any exposure from the spill as well. 

As per a report from The Detroit News, the slurry that spilled on the ground and around equipment in the Ultium Cells plant contained n-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP). NMP is typically used for cathode production to create a polymer that holds active and conductive battery materials. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted that NMP presents an “unreasonable risk” to human health, though there is no federal permissible exposure limit for the chemical under OSHA.

Greg Less, technical director at the University of Michigan Battery Lab, noted that NMP can be quite dangerous. “That stuff is pretty nasty. It’s got a lot of safety concerns with it,” he said. 

Ultium Cells has noted that mixing operations have been halted at the facility for now. The company also used a third-party company to help clean up and contain the spill. Operations at the area of the plant where the spill happened remain paused, at least until the area has been inspected and deemed safe

Ultium spokesperson Katie Burdette, for her part, noted that the incident shows that the company has the right safety and reporting procedures in place. “We believe this incident demonstrates that we have the right safety and reporting procedures in place and our teams are sufficiently trained to follow them. We are grateful to our team members for their swift and responsive action,” Burdette said. 

The United Auto Workers (UAW), however, has expressed its disdain at the incident. In a statement about the chemical spill, UAW President Shawn Fain criticized General Motors for prioritizing Ultium Cells’ bottom line instead of its workers’ safety. 

“This is the latest in a long line of serious health and safety hazards our members have had to endure at Ultium and underscores why it is critically important that Ultium adopt the health and safety standards that generations of auto workers have fought for and won at General Motors. These accidents are preventable and manageable. Sadly, Ultium is choosing to prioritize their bottom line over human safety,” Fain said. 

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