Processing Magazine

Explosion at Louisiana chemical plant kills one, injures 77

June 18, 2013
firefighters
Photo credit: Keith Brofsky/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

An explosion at a chemical plant in the state of Louisiana last week killed at least one person and injured 77 more, local officials have said.

The blast happened at about 8:30am on June 13 at Williams Olefins plant in Geismar, about 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana. The explosion started a huge fire that took firefighters hours to extinguish.

Rescue crews checking the aftermath of the blast at the facility found the body of one person, who was declared dead at the scene, according to state police spokesman Doug Cain. The victim was identified as 29-year-old Zachary C. Green. So far he has not been confirmed as an employee at the chemical plant, the BBC reported.

Later, the Department of Health and Hospitals stated in an updated report that the total number of people injured in the incident was 77. This was higher than the initial announcement made by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal at a press conference that 73 people were hurt. The Department of Health and Hospitals revealed that the majority of injuries were minor and were not life-threatening. At the time of the latest update, 51 had been discharged but at least three of the victims were in a critical condition.

Witnesses were quoted saying that they heard the explosion miles away. Thick black smoke was seen rising above the the chemical plant. TV footage showed a huge fireball that formed after the explosion and many panicked workers that were trying to leave the site in a panic.

Reports said that around 600 plant employees and contractors were present at the scene when the incident happened. Governor Jindal said that all of them were accounted for and that, in the hours following the blast, only 10 of them were still at the site to keep flaring operations running and shut down the plant from a safe room.

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Residents in the area were asked to stay indoors and keep their doors and windows closed. Roads near the facility were blocked, despite the lack of any hazardous level of dangerous chemicals being detected by early tests in the vicinity of the plant.

The cause of the explosion is still unknown but according to Governor Jindal an investigation will be started soon.

The facility is owned by The Williams Companies Inc. and produces ethylene and polymer grade propylene. Inside sources explained that the plant had been approved for an expansion project and was in "turnaround" -- a state in which a unit is taken offline for renovation work. The plant was known to have had problems in the past regarding compliance with state safety regulations, reports said.

The explosion in Louisiana took place just two months after the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, on April 17, which killed 15 people and caused significant damage to the town. The latest incident highlights the need for an extensive review of state and federal safety regulations.