After three days, a chemical fire at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Garyville, Louisiana, which painted the sky black and forced evacuations, has finally been put out. The persistent blaze that started due to a naphtha release has seen firefighters, response teams, and various agencies work in tandem to contain it. However, the incident has raised concerns about the impact on the community.
It was also reported that at least 2 people were injured in the Marathon refinery fire and 10 others were evaluated for heat stress.
An Overview of the Marathon Refinery Fire
On Friday, August 25th, the Marathon Petroleum refinery was disrupted by a furious blaze, reportedly due to a naphtha release. The fire necessitated the evacuation of residents within a two-mile radius and painted a worrying picture of black plumes rising against the sky.
By Friday afternoon, most of the fire was under control. However, spot fires kept emergency teams engaged until Sunday. Response units remained vigilant on Monday, overseeing the impacted zone and working to ensure there were no more flare-ups.
Multiple agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Marathon Petroleum, and an independent contractor, initiated air monitoring measures. Meanwhile, as a precautionary measure, the Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School, situated less than four miles from the facility, suspended its Monday classes.
Although the refinery is currently operating below its full capacity, there are plans underway to strategize its return to regular operations. Investigations are still ongoing to determine the exact cause of the fire.
What Is Naphtha?
Naphtha, a key player in this incident, is a volatile hydrocarbon mixture. Derived from petroleum or coal tar refining, it is primarily used in producing gasoline and jet fuels.
Some of the potential health risks of naphtha exposure include:
- Inhalation: Breathing in naphtha vapors can cause respiratory discomfort, leading to symptoms like throat irritation, coughing, and shortness of breath.
- Skin Contact: Direct touch can result in skin redness and irritation.
- Ingestion: Consuming naphtha can induce nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distress.
- Repeated Exposure: Ongoing exposure to naphtha can cause nervous system damage.
Given the nature of the incident and the involvement of naphtha, it is understandable that members of the community have been concerned. A Garyville resident who lives right next to the refinery reported feeling nauseous and dizzy, and experiencing headaches. He said that others nearby experienced similar symptoms.
What’s Next? Monitoring the Impact of the Garyville Refinery Fire
Marathon Petroleum has seven days to submit a detailed report to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. This report must include the fire’s origin and how much naphtha (and other chemicals, if relevant) were released or burned. The DEQ will then determine whether to pursue fines or other actions.
With the capacity to process 596,000 barrels per day, Marathon's Garyville refinery stands as one of the nation's largest. Incidents like these not only emphasize the importance of stringent safety measures for workers and nearby communities.
- Plant & Refinery Accidents