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Geismar Plant Explosion: Plant Had History of Leaks & Noncompliance

Last week in Louisiana, the Williams Olefins plant explosion at the Geismar site injured almost 80 victims killing at least two. Though the investigators have not deduced the root cause of the explosion, more and more details regarding the plants history have been revealed, likely pointing the suspicion even more so on the plant itself. While there are no exact answers, it is very possible that the petrochemical plant explosion last Thursday is related to a history of noncompliance on behalf of the plant. As last week's explosion was a result of the propylene chemical which caught on fire, investigators discovered that must six months ago the plant experienced a leak due to a corroded pipe.

At this time, the chemical plant has been negotiating with the state environmental officials for a settlement agreement in regards to the plants past violations while also making huge breakthroughs on their site expansion project as well. This project will increase the plant's production capacity by 600 million pounds per year. Federal investigators confirmed Friday that the explosion was a result of two particularly flammable chemicals catching fire and getting out of hand, which lead to the eventual explosion. The plant however, has said that they are still uncertain as to what may have triggered the combustion on their site, while at the same time refusing to discuss December's propylene leak incident.

While some leaks may be insignificant, and easily fixable, this particular one was not. Reports claim that the corroded pipe was so extensive that they called for a shutdown of the plant and also a response by their emergency brigade team as well. The Department of Environmental Quality reports shows that on December 18, 2012 workers noticed a "visible leak" of the extremely flammable gas. They notified the facility control room to report the leak and immediately the shutdown alarm went off and all automobile engines were turn off along with all grinding, welding and cutting machines. The brigade then worked to contain all vapors of the propylene until they were completely evaporated.

Reports of the leak claim that 514 pounds of the chemical escaped from the corroded pipe, though it wasn't technically a large enough number to be a violation of the plants permit for air quality control. This pollution permit allows for the plant to emit "fugitive emissions" of volatile organic carbon materials annually as long as it is under 197.84 tons. While the leak was considered to be a non-violation of pollution safety, it still causes concern for investigators who believe that a small corrosion like this may have played a role in the recent occurrences on the plant because the corrosion went on for so long before the employees noticed the leak.

In 2010, another leak was reported from the Geismar chemical plant which released 100 pounds of highly reactive volatile organic compounds and ethylene. The prior 93 pounds of benzene were lost in a leakage, and this chemical is a carcinogen which actually breaks done bone marrow. Reports also show that in previous years another large leak occurred in which the plant lost 4,000 pounds of propylene (the same chemical which lead to last week's explosion). After this, the company was reported to have fallen out of compliance with the health and safety standards.

As a result of the multiple incidents, the DEQ filed a compliance order against Geismar in 2010 and claimed that if they do not make the necessary changes they will experience a severe penalty. For the following years the EQ and the plant went back and forth with settlement agreements. According to Matthew Tarr, a chemistry professor at the University of New Orleans, when you are working with gases or liquids, leaks are often unavoidable and until more investigations are made regarding the explosion, blaming the explosion on the leas is merely speculation, though a very likely cause. Tarr reports that as the plant produced 80 million pounds off propylene and 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene annually at their Geismar sight, it is very likely that a leak was ignited after the flammable chemicals somehow interacted.

Chemical combustions can also be ignited by a number of other causes including static shock due to the negligent lighting of a match near the leak or extremely high temperatures within the pipes as well as the addition of oxygen entering into the pipes because of the leak. Whatever the cause of the incident may have been, last week's explosion resulted in the death of two people and the injury of 77 victims on the job. If you or your loved one were harmed in this devastating explosion. Please contact Arnold & Itkin today for a highly experienced plant explosion attorney who can fight for you!