At least 5 people were injured in an explosion at the Westlake Chemical Petro Complex 2 Unit in Sulphur, Louisiana at about 11 pm on Monday. Residents in areas from Lake Charles and Hammond to Lafayette reported hearing and feeling the explosion as it shook their homes.
According to Louisiana State Trooper Derek Senegal, five workers were transported to local hospitals. All were contract employees engaged in plant maintenance. Two of the workers were taken to hospitals in Hammond and Lafayette, and one worker sustained severe burns over at least half of their body. Thankfully, no fatalities have been reported at this time.
As of Tuesday morning, the fire caused by the Westlake Chemical plant explosion had been extinguished, and its cause is still under investigation. The plant is used in the production of ethylene, a colorless and flammable hydrocarbon gas that has a wide variety of uses in the chemical industry.
According to a spokesperson for Westlake Chemical, the Petro Complex 2 Unit was undergoing a turnaround when the explosion occurred. All five workers were engaged in the turnaround when they were injured. The spokesperson also said the incident was a flash fire and did not continue to burn.
What Is a Plant Turnaround?
A turnaround is a process where a plant or refinery is taken offline to perform a renewal or revamp. Inspections, testing, and repairing or replacing equipment and machinery may all be done during a turnaround. Turnarounds are an essential part of plant maintenance, but they are time-consuming and expensive. One study placed the cost of a plant shutdown at $260,000 per hour.
Throughout 2020, many plants were forced to delay turnarounds until 2021. This can cause increased risks to workers and to everyone in the vicinity. For a facility like the Westlake Chemical plant that deals with a flammable substance like ethylene, the consequences can be catastrophic.
What Is Ethylene?
The Westlake Chemical plant explosion gives rise to concerns about ethylene and any potential hazards it may pose. Ethylene is colorless and flammable, with a slight musky and sweet smell. It occurs in natural gas, crude oil, and coal gas, and it is also given off by fruit as it ripens. It is used widely in the chemical industry, ranging from manufacturing plastics, textiles, synthetic rubber, and antifreeze to controlling freshness in fruits and plants. Worldwide, ethylene production is higher than any other organic compound.
Ethylene is a highly reactive and flammable chemical that poses a significant fire and explosion hazard. If breathed in, it can cause symptoms like headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, and confusion. Enough exposure can lead to unconsciousness and even death. Skin contact with liquid ethylene can cause frostbite.
Westlake Chemical Plant Explosion Is Still Under Investigation
All Westlake Chemical Petro Complex 2 Unit workers have been accounted for. The fire has been extinguished. But still, there are five workers in the hospital and no answers as to why this incident occurred in the first place. Our plant explosion attorneys will continue to follow this incident as more details emerge, and our hearts go out to those who were injured. We look forward to seeing all at-fault parties held accountable.