Plant incidents raise safety concerns from some environmental groups


With the two plant explosions that took place in Ascension Parish last weekend, questions are being asked about the safety of the plants.

An explosion Thursday at the Williams Olefins Chemical Plant in Geismar killed two men, and a rupture at the CF Industries Fertilizer Plant on Friday in Donaldsonville left one dead - combined leaving dozens injured. Some environmental groups charge Louisiana allows plants to operate unchecked, putting workers’ lives in danger.

According to published reports, this was not the first deadly incident at CF Industries. In May of 2000, three workers were killed and nine were injured.

Later that same year, OSHA imposed a fine of nearly $150,000 against CF Industries citing 14 alleged safety and health violations.

“Our state agencies and politicians look the other way while these companies take the money and run,” said Anne Rolfes with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Ordinary people, especially workers, pay the price.”

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade cited a New Orleans Times-Picayune report stating that a pipe at Williams Olefins was leaking propylene, a highly flammable liquid.

Tom Droege of Williams Olefins said he’s “gathering the facts on the previous leak referenced in news reports.”

“I can tell you that Williams Geismar facility has an excellent track record for operations and safety,” Droege said.

Droege said he will provide information on the reported leak as soon as it becomes available.

“We will continue to work with regulators and authorities throughout this process and provide all necessary information to establish what happened on June 13,” Droege said.

During a news conference Governor Bobby Jindal held, Thursday, black smoke continued to rise from the Williams Olefins plant. He spoke to reporters gathered at the parking lot of Fred’s Truck Stop in St. Gabriel, a location near the plant.

Jindal told reporters the smoke was from controlled flaring used to burn off dangerous chemicals. He acknowledged the shelter in place order for residents of St. Gabriel following the explosion and fire, but insisted the air quality is safe and is being monitored throughout the area.

“Ascension Parish has lifted the shelter in place order in a two mile radius,” Jindal said. “There are four additional plants in the area that have shelter in place orders, including Honeywell, Univer, Innophos and PCS Nitrogen.”

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson said the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will continue to assess the air/water quality on and around the facility and report any readings of concern to LSP Hazmat Technician Troopers.

Edmonson said an OSHA investigator is beginning an in-depth investigation as to the exact nature of the fire at the Williams Olefins facility.

“The entire Department of Public Safety family mourns with all who have been affected by this incident,” Edmonson said in a news release Friday morning.

Edmonson added: “With that said, I may also say that I could not be prouder of the response from the police, fire and EMS personnel from the region. These types of unfortunate incidents are best managed through partnerships. They exemplify the level of planning and training that occur on an ongoing basis. This was truly a team effort as all of us share the primary goal of protecting the citizens we serve. As the role of our LSP HazMat Technician Troopers’ on-site diminishes, we will continue to be engaged and support OSHA and the company as they work to determine the cause of this fatal fire.”

Lisa Yates contributed to this article