Crews Stabilize Chem Plant

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 @ 04:03 PM gHale


Westlake Chemical Corp. continued to clean up chemicals at the site of last Thursday’s fire and explosion at one of the Ascension Parish plant’s towers, a state environmental quality official said.

The Houston-based chemical company was waiting on a crane to come in from outside the state to stabilize the tower, which has been leaning off center since the explosion, so workers dealing with hazardous materials can pull all chemicals out of the structure, said Peter Ricca, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) emergency response manager.

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Officials from Westlake and DEQ decided during a meeting Friday afternoon a crane would be necessary for tower stabilization, Ricca said.

Once the crane arrives, workers may take up to 12 hours to set it up before officials can empty the tower of its contents for a full cleaning, Ricca said.

No one suffered an injury in the explosion, which started at 8 a.m. Thursday as the tower, at the Geismar Vinyls Complex at La. 30 and La. 73, was restarting after maintenance, David Hansen, a Westlake Chemical spokesman, has said.

Workers returned to the plant Friday, but the plant production remained shut down as of that time, Hansen said Friday.

Westlake workers will be on the scene 24 hours a day to fix the problem, and DEQ officials will be on hand twice a day to monitor the situation and test the ground for any leaked chemicals, Ricca said.

DEQ has not detected any materials leaking out of the facility since Thursday, Ricca said.

“We want to make sure nothing is leaving the facility,” Ricca said.

Ricca said Westlake’s hazmat workers had cleaned the nearby areas as of Saturday afternoon and were still working on the tower.

The tower may be holding between 50 and 500 gallons of ethylene dichloride, or a mixture of the chemical with vinyl chloride monomer, which is a feedstock for PVC, a common household plastic, Ricca said.

Westlake has seven days from the time of the explosion to send DEQ a report about the cause of the blast and fire, Ricca said.



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