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03 - 22 - 2012

Chemical plant in Geismar explodes, cause unknown

Inspectors from several environmental agencies are trying to determine what caused an explosion at Westlake Chemical along LA 73 in Geismar. A fire broke around 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning. An estimated 300 people were told to stay indoors.


"During the restart of our vinyl chloride monomer plant we had an explosion and fire. There were no injuries and all personnel have been accounted for," Westlake Chemicals Environmental Health and Safety Manager Karen Khonsari said.

At 9:10 a.m., paramedics said there were no reports of injuries. Authorities say "the lines involved in the release are either shut in or in the process of being shut in." There was an evacuation and shelter-in-place ordered for a one mile radius. Highway 73 was closed.

"We used a system called First Call to do a reverse 911 to notify everybody to shelter in place around the facility," Ascension Parish OEP Director Rick Webre said.

Shelter-in-place means you should stay in your home with the doors and windows closed, along with the air conditioning and heating units turned off. This was lifted just after 11 a.m.

The plant was releasing Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM); Hydrochloric Acid (HCL); Chlorine (CL); and Hydrochloric Acid solution in whole or parts. The Department of Environmental Quality is sending the Mobile Air Monitoring Lab, the DEQ command post and emergency responders to do additional monitoring and oversight.

The EPA's ASPECT plane, which can conduct aerial monitoring, arrived Thursday afternoon. The EPA is providing additional air monitoring equipment to add to DEQ's equipment. An EPA START contractor team was on the site by early afternoon as well as an EPA on Scene coordinator.

DEQ Emergency Response will do continuous monitoring for the duration of the incident and is coordinating with the plant, LA State Police and Ascension Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.  The DEQ Incident Command Center was set up in the facility parking lot and  Ascension OEP, Sheriff and State Police are on scene with DEQ Emergency responders.

Inspectors are now trying to determine how much gas is left in the damaged plant tower, where it is, and what needs to be done to prevent future accidents.

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