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Cause of Westlake Chemical Plant Explosion Is Under Investigation

January 26, 2022

Morrow & Sheppard LLP are investigating the cause of the January 26, 2022 chemical plant explosion at the Westlake Chemical South plant at Pete Manena Road and PPG Drive in Calcasieu Parish, Westlake, Louisiana.  Initial reports are that several workers were injured and that Ethylene Dichloride was involved in the explosion.  Our chemical plant explosion lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP have handled cases involving past allegations of Westlake’s negligence, including exposure to dangerous and explosive plastics chemicals.

In a tweet today, Jan. 26, Read Free Louisiana reported seeing a “mushroom cloud” from the direction of the chemical plants that line Interstate 10 in western Calcasieu Parish. The photographer, Ryan Abshire, said he took the picture below around 30 seconds after hearing the blast.

Ethylene Dichloride

Officials investigating the explosion at the Westlake Chemical South Plant have reported the explosion involved Ethylene Dichloride. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ethylene dichloride is primarily used in the production of vinyl chloride as well as other chemicals. It is also added to leaded gasoline as a lead scavenger, used a dispersant in rubber and plastics, and was formerly used as a grain fumigant and metal degreaser. Ethylene dichloride poses the following hazards:

See Hazard Summary.

It is currently unclear exactly what caused the explosion, but we do know that the Safety Data Sheet for ethylene dichloride states it is a highly flammable liquid and vapor. The flash point, or the lowest temperature at which a liquid will form a vapor in the air near its surface that will “flash” or briefly ignite when exposed to a flame, is at 55.4 °F.

Needless to say, ethylene dichloride can pose severe risks of danger to those working near it and the surrounding communities if not handled with extreme care.

Other Westlake Chemical Products

Westlake Chemical is an international manufacturer and supplier of petrochemicals, polymers, and building products. Its production consists of:

  • OLEFINS – Polyethylene: these include packaging films, coatings, and adhesives used in cartons engineered to transport perishable foods without refrigeration, and medical films and personal care products
  • OLEFIN – Chemicals: these include petrochemicals ethylene and styrene monomer. If exposed, ethylene products can damage the eyes, skin, nose, throat, lungs, brain, and nervous system, and can be carcinogenic to humans – according to the EPA.
  • VINYLS – Vinyl Products: these include vinyl resin products such as residential siding, pipe, and fittings for various water, sewer, and industrial applications.
  • VINYL – Chemicals: Westlake touts itself as a “global chlorovinyls leader.” It produces chlorine and derivatives, caustic soda, and polyvinyl chloride.

Again, at the early stage of the explosion investigation, it remains unclear how large the explosion was and what types of products/chemicals were affected or released by the explosion.

Westlake Chemical and Historical Issues

In light of today’s explosion on January 26, 2022, the Morrow & Sheppard LLP legal team has compiled historic data on prior explosions and alleged safety breaches at Westlake facilities. Morrow & Sheppard LLP has handled cases involving past allegations of Westlake’s negligence, including exposure to dangerous and explosive plastics chemicals.

PRIOR EXPLOSIONS/FIRES at WESTLAKE CHEMICAL FACILITIES

October 22, 2021. Local news agencies reported a fire broke out at Westlake Chemical’s plant in Gallman, Mississippi. Several fire agencies responded to the call, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality investigated the scene. The blaze ignited in a tower at the facility, and no injuries were initially reported. The tower was holding mineral oil at the time the fire started. Workers were forced to evacuate the facility immediately.

September 27, 2021. Local news agencies reported an explosion in 2021 at Westlake Chemical South Plant, the same facility where an explosion just occurred today on January 26, 2022. Six people were injured in the explosion, all of whom were contract employees working on a planned maintenance turnaround. At the time of the explosion, the plant was offline for planned maintenance. Louisiana State Police Emergency Services Technicians responded to the call and investigated whether any part of the explosion could have been hazardous to the public. Spokesman State Trooper Derek Senegal correctly stated that “anything at a chemical plant would be a big deal whether it’s an explosion, a chemical release, a fire, or anything like that.” This particular explosion was reported as a flash fire, with no sustained fire after the incident. Apparently, Westlake Chemical operators issued a “hot work permit” which allowed the contract welders to complete the jobs they were hired to do. According to one attorney who filed suit on behalf of two of the injured workers – the “men should’ve never been issued hot work permits if it was not ensured by Westlake that the lines were clear, completely purged and there were no flammables in the area.” Another attorney, representing more than fourteen people claiming injuries from the explosion, reported that people were burned, one person lost a leg, and many more suffered injuries.

OTHER SAFETY ISSUES AT WESTLAKE FACILITIES

September 22, 2018.  An employee of Westlake Chemical working as a “lead packer” alleged that he suffered severe burns during an operation. The employee stated he was in the process of assisting two other employees with melting caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) into liquid caustic soda by operating a lance and hose. During the process, the employee noticed a steam leak and picked up the hose to inspect it. He stated the steam and pressure increased considerably, and the liquid caustic soda started shooting out at a high rate of speed, causing severe burns.

August 22, 2018.  Two groups of contractors working at a plant operated by Westlake Chemical claimed they suffered severe injuries as a result of a power outage. The power outage allegedly caused the facilities to release chemicals into the air.

2018. A contractor working at a Westlake Chemical plant was injured while using a hydro-blasting gun with a whip hose attached. The hose failed, causing highly pressurized water to strike his hands and knock him to the ground. The employee was told by another worker that the hose was in “bad condition” and “that [the employee] was lucky that no one had been seriously injured or killed.”

SAFETY is the number one most important aspect of work when dealing with dangerous or hazardous materials/environments. As our attorneys have experienced, safety issues have been alleged at Westlake Chemical Facilities in recent years. The explosion on January 26, 2022, is the third fire/explosion reported at a Westlake Chemical facility within the past calendar year.

Our chemical plant explosion lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP will continue to provide updates as more information is provided from the Lake Charles American-Press and other local authorities responding to the chemical plant explosion.

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