GEISMAR, LA — An explosion at a Louisiana chemical plant killed one person and injured 73 others Thursday morning while forcing the evacuation of several hundred workers and setting off a fire that jeopardizes the safety of other nearby factories.
According to the Associated Press, the explosion occurred at 8:37 a.m. at a chemical plant owned by Williams Companies Inc. southeast of Baton Rouge. The plant produces 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene, both of which are extremely flammable. The petrochemicals are a key ingredient in plastic production and a number of other industrial applications.
The injured workers were taken to at least three Baton Rouge area hospitals for treatment of burn injuries, fractured bones, injuries to the chest, neck, head, and back, and other trauma. The injuries ranged in severity from mild to serious and critical.
WAFB reported that the explosion sent a massive smoke plume that was picked up by a Doppler Radar in Slidell 90 miles away. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started monitoring air quality near the site, and testing was expanded throughout the day. The plant’s toxic emissions are allegedly being burned off by a flare and no dangerous levels of chemicals have been found in the air, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials said.
DEQ Secretary Cheryl Nolan said that the Williams plant does have a history of regulatory compliance issues, but did not elaborate as to whether those included any serious safety violations that may have contributed to the blast.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said at a press conference Thursday that the Williams plant had been approved for expansion and was undergoing a transition.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said that the Chemical Safety Board told her that it is “actively assessing the explosion that occurred” at the plant and added that she intends “to follow this situation closely.”
The explosion occurred just weeks after another industrial explosion at a fertilizer plant decimated much of the town of West, Texas, killing 15 and injuring dozens. Authorities investigating that April 17 blast found safety and regulatory deficiencies that may have played a role in the disaster.