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LABB responds to Dow explosion at Plaquemines

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade notes with serious concern the disaster at Dow Chemical’s plant outside Plaquemines on Sunday, Nov. 3.

This explosion comes amidst a proposed onslaught of new petrochemical plant construction, an expansion that poses an existential threat to Louisiana from excessive pollution and flooding from emissions that cause climate change.

According to reporting by Advocate, a tank at a glycol processing unit burst open Sunday morning, “sending a shock wave that shook nearby homes and resonated miles away, according to officials in Iberville and neighboring parishes.” There has been no independent confirmation of the safety of employees or the surrounding community.

The La. Department of Environmental Quality is monitoring air quality in the area and says it hasn’t found any harmful contaminants from the blast. The agency has a history of monitoring in the areas least likely to be contaminated, and consistently shares the industry’s talking point that nothing harmful is released. As for what caused the accident, company officials say they still don’t have a clue – they’ve only revealed that workers at the plant were rebooting systems after an overnight power outage at the time of the explosion. Government health and safety laws require the company to conduct a root cause analysis of the explosion, but that analysis may not come for months.

This facility deals with toxic chemicals, many of which are very dangerous to people:

The tank contained water and small amounts of sulfuric acid, ethylene oxide and nitrogen, which are used for a variety of manufacturing purposes, including coolants and polyesters, a Dow spokeswoman said.

Depending on the level, exposure to the chemicals can cause dizziness, skin rashes, eye irritation and difficulty breathing. Parish and company officials didn’t report anyone experiencing signs of those symptoms.

Had greater levels of these chemicals been detected, it would have prompted a public health emergency of a magnitude that few of us care to experience.

It was just six months ago that Dow reported a release – from the very same processing unit – of 334 pounds of ethylene oxide into the air over a 26-hour period – it exceeded its annual allowable limit under LDEQ regulations. And in 2016, this same company failed to warn Iberville Parish officials that about a chlorine leak at the plant site – those authorities issued shelter-in-place warnings to the community when they finally found out.

We salute emergency response officials in Iberville Parish and throughout the Cancer Alley corridor, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, who work directly to safeguard the public and who must plan constantly for such emergencies as the petrochemical industry seems to provide on a regular basis.