Two Fatal Chemical Explosions in Two Days Plants OK’d for Expansion Despite Failure to Maintain Facilities

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June 15, 2013                                                         For Immediate Release
Contact:          Anne Rolfes, Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, (504) 452-4909

(New Orleans) Both chemical plants that exploded this week in Louisiana have a history of accidents, yet both have been approved for expansion.  Three men have been killed at explosions at Williams Olefins in Geismar and CF Industries in Donaldsonvile, with an additional 82 workers hospitalized. “Their current pipes are rusty and leaking, now they are exploding, yet they are given permits to expand,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “These companies locate in Louisiana because they don’t have to invest in maintenance. Our state agencies and politicians look the other way while these companies take the money and run.  Ordinary people, especially workers, pay the price.”

There is no word yet on how these explosions may impact recent permitting decisions, including construction of an ammonia plant in the Cornerstone Chemical Complex in Jefferson Parish near the levee of the Mississippi River in Waggaman.
The Times Picayune reported that a pipe at Williams Olefins was leaking propylene earlier this year. Propylene is the chemical believed to have triggered Thursday’s explosion. According to government records, the cause of the leak six months ago was corrosion. And three workers were killed at an explosion at CF Industries in 2000. “The lack of oversight at petrochemical plants in Louisiana is putting workers lives in jeopardy,” said Ms. Rolfes.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality took the questionable step of permitting an expansion at Williams Olefins even as it negotiated a settlement for violations of the law.  And the agency has consistently permitted CF Industries to expand since its construction in the 1960s. The ongoing accidents, including the fatalities in 2000, do not seem to have affected the agency’s decision to greenlight the company’s growth. CF Industries Donaldsonville is the largest nitrogen plant in North America.
Governor Bobby Jindal characterized the black smoke coming from Williams Olefins as normal, and Cheryl Nolan of the Department of Environmental Quality said that the massive explosion and fire caused no air quality problems. This is at odds with local residents’ reporting of headaches and eye irritation. Reports of health problems or other experiences from the explosions should be reported via phone, text or e mail to the iWitness Pollution Map. (504) 272-7645
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice organization supporting neighborhoods’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable communities free from industrial pollution.

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