Chemical Plant Explosion: 73 injured, 1 dead after Williams Olefins plant explodes in Geismar, Louisiana

5:22 PM, Jun 13, 2013   |    comments
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GEISMAR, Louisiana (WAFB) -- Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal reported in a news conference Thursday afternoon that 73 people were injured and one person died in a Thursday morning plant explosion in Geismar, La.

Louisiana State Police now confirm that there has been one fatality. During a news conference with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, he reports that 73 people were injured in the explosion. 

Fourteen of those were treated at Baton Rouge General. Seven have been treated and released, five were admitted to the hospital and have sustained burns; one patient is in critical condition, one in serious condition, one in fair condition and one in good condition.

Our Lady of the Lake reports they have received 12 patients in the trauma center, two are still in critical condition. One patient was taken to the OLOL freestanding emergency room in Livingston, LA.

St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales received 36 patients, all in good or fair condition. Latest reports indicate that 18 have already been discharged.

According to OLOL and St. Elizabeth's Hospital, patients that were exposed to the chemical Ethylene-Propylene-Maleic Anhydride Copolymers, were provided the proper decontamination and appropriate care. The patients sustained various injuries including trauma and burn, fractured bones, and neck, back, abdominal and chest injuries.

The name of the plant employee who died in the explosion has not been released at this time pending notification of the family, however, Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said during the news conference that the man is from Hammond, LA.

Jindal also reports that officials say every plant employee is accounted for, however, there are 10 plant employees still in a safe room in the plant. Their job is to shut down the plant in case of an emergency. 

The 2-mile radius shelter-in-place has been lifted, however, there are at least three plants in the area that are still working under the shelter in place.

Officials at the plant say the explosion happened at 8:37 a.m. Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain reports the fire is now out. There were as many as 600 workers in the plant at the time of the explosion.

There is no word on what caused the explosion.

Meteorologist Steve Caparotta reported Doppler Radar out of Slidell detected the smoke plume from the initial explosion around 8:45 a.m. He said the radar beam would be sampling an elevation around 6,000 feet over Geismar.

During the Thursday afternoon news conference, Governor Jindal said the plant had been approved for expansion and was in the middle of a turnaround. Williams plant does have some prior compliance issues, according to Assistant DEQ Secretary Cheryl Nolan. Nolan also said she is unsure if the compliance issues were serious issues, but DEQ will be taking a look.

The American Red Cross disaster volunteers have deployed from around the state and are providing food, water and emotional support to those affected by the explosion. 

DEQ has completed the first round of monitoring around Highways LA 3115 and LA 73 and there was nothing alarming detected initially. The air monitoring area is being expanded now, but so far, the hazardous chemicals are not detected in the air and they are being burned off with a flare at the plant.

The Environmental Protection Agency has mobilized a START Team to help monitor the air quality around the plant.

According to DEQ, the release from the stack is reported to be residual propelyne - this is what's generating the smoke

According to Louisiana State Police, the evacuation of the plant, shelters in place at Honeywell and PCS (the two neighboring plants) and road closures will be in place until further notice. The shelter in place has been lifted in St. Gabriel.

"We are in the process of accounting for all personnel. Injuries have been reported, the number and extent of those injuries is not known at this point," said Tom Droege with Williams Geismar Olefins plant in a news release.

The Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has set up a reunification center for plant workers and their families at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center at 9039 S. St. Landry Ave, Gonzales, Louisiana.

For those seeking family members, the Ascension Parish Emergency Operations Center has a set up a phone number: 866-380-2303. The EOC will not be able to patch callers through to their family members, but will be able to give callers the status of their loved ones.

The St. George Fire Department dispatched an engine company and a chief officer to East Iberville High School to assist with triage and treatment of patients as requested.

Plant workers were taken by bus to various staging areas. 

Homeland Security is also on scene assisting investigators, according to Lester Kenyon, the Public Information Officer for Ascension Parish.

"We train for these types of events because this is a heavy corridor for these types of plants along the Mississippi River," Kenyon told CNN.

Roads were closed Thursday morning around the plant, however, LA 3115 between LA 30 and LA 75 is the only roadway that is closed at this time. All other roads have reopened.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, issued the following statement in response to the explosion that occurred this morning at a chemical plant in Geismar, Louisiana:

Senator Boxer said: "I have reached out to the Chemical Safety Board and was told that the Board is actively assessing the explosion that occurred this morning at a Louisiana chemical plant. I intend to follow this situation closely and have asked for updates as they become available."

According to the company's website, it provides products to customers in the petrochemical industry. The Geismar plant produces 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene, both flammable gases used in industrial chemicals and plastic products.

Almost every plastic is ethylene based.  1.3 billion pounds of It being produced at this plant.

Williams employs more than 4,500 people at this plant. Operations span from the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Oil Sands.

The Olefin team is responsible for the ethane transportation business consisting of approximately 200 miles of pipelines, as well as a refinery-grade propylene splitter.

A neighboring plant says the major exposure is Butadiene spheres. They say that Williams Olefin has a hydrocarbon fire and the concern is that another explosion could occur and the fire is not under control.


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