Axiall Corp. held an unveiling ceremony for its logoed storage tank in August of 2013. The tank, which previously displayed the PPG logo, is visible from Interstate 210 and various waterways. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, April 04, 2014 11:09 AM
Axiall officials have closed the books on an investigation stemming from a fire at the company’s Westlake plant in December 2012. The incident occurred one year before an explosion and fire in the same unit sent more than 30 people to area hospitals.
In a report to the state Department of Environmental Quality, Axiall concluded that a pipe breached in the quench tower area of the PHH production unit and released a mixture of vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride that ignited, causing the Dec. 24 fire. The incident sent one worker to West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital for observation.
The fire erupted shortly after 1 p.m. and was extinguished less than 30 minutes later. Axiall’s report says the company’s investigation team concluded that multiple uses of the pipe over time created a situation that “could have contributed to the general thinning of the line over years of service.”
The investigative team recommended that the piping specification for the line be changed “to match the drain lines from the quench tower.” The team also recommended that the line’s material be upgraded to Alloy 600, a nickel-chromium alloy that is resistant to corrosion, and a formal inspection program for the line, requiring periodic thickness measurements that would be tracked and evaluated over time.
In February, Plant Manager Jon Manns met with local media representatives to discuss the December 2013 incident. During the meeting, he alluded to the December 2012 fire, saying the company was using engineering clamps at the time to stop a pipe leak. Axiall’s report on the December 2012 fire concludes that the company’s “Management of Change process followed for the repair only partially addressed the installation of an engineering clamp.”
“It appears that no evaluation of the piping was performed to determine the suitability of installing an engineered clamp at the location where the leak had occurred,” the report reads.
The report also concludes that the line’s “accelerated corrosion rate” was not recognized during the operator’s inspection and that “inspection requirements for that part of the process were not updated.”
Axiall’s report on the 2012 fire is the “public version,” which can be downloaded online from DEQ’s Electronic Document Management System. The report includes 53 pages of appendices that were blacked out for confidentiality purposes before publication.
In a Jan. 23, 2014, letter to DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch, Malek Abbas, Axiall’s manager of occupational and process safety, requested the appendices remain confidential on the grounds that disclosure could “violate trade secret, proprietary secret and/or other commercial contract agreements” with third parties.
Abbas also wrote that such information “could provide other competitors with a financial advantage.” He added that two copies of the report were attached to his letter, one marked “confidential” and another marked “public.”
Abbas’ letter also listed the labels for the appendices, which included drawings and information on piping specifications and a sketch of thickness readings.
In a March 10, 2014, letter to Abbas, Herman Robinson, executive counsel for DEQ, wrote that Axiall’s request for confidentiality had been granted.
In an email to the American Press, DEQ press secretary Greg Langley said the department “has opened an investigation into the fire.” He said the department has not made “a final decision” on any penalties against Axiall.
The cause of the December 2013 incident remains under investigation.