(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Axiall's fire last December released more than 130,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 06, 2014 10:33 AM
A recent report from Axiall to the state Department of Environmental Quality reveals more than 100,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals were released during a fire at the company’s Westlake plant in December, an amount that far exceeds what is permitted by state officials.
Axiall’s 60-day follow-up report indicates that a combined total of 131,000 pounds of hydrogen chloride ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride were released from the plant as a result of the Dec. 20 blaze.
Axiall’s Title V permit with DEQ allows for a maximum combined total of 1,101 pounds of these chemicals to be released from the plant during each incident.
In a statement to the American Press, DEQ Press Secretary Greg Langley said Axiall’s report revealed “potential areas of concern associated with the incident.” He added the department has notified Axiall verbally of “this preliminary finding and will work with them to obtain any necessary information or data to determine if violations of the air quality regulations or applicable air permits occurred.”
If DEQ does find that Axiall was in violation of their permit, his statement read, “the department will take the necessary actions to appropriately address any violations identified.”
Langley declined to comment on what the “potential areas of concern” were. He did, however, say that further action will be forthcoming from DEQ enforcement officials, as the department investigates the incident. “We’re looking at the numbers right now that are in that report, and we’re doing some analysis,” Langley said. “I don’t know what that action will be. That’s up to our people in enforcement. They have to see if there was a violation that will require a penalty. But something more will happen with it.”
Axiall’s report, which was submitted to DEQ on April 25, states that fire began when a pipe in the plant’s No. 2 Vinyl Chloride Cracking Furnace ruptured during a unit restart, releasing flammable gases that ignited. The report further states that the pipe’s short-term exposure to temperatures well above its design’s threshold weakened it “until it could not withstand the internal pressure.”
In February, Plant Manager Jon Manns told media officials he was in his office on the day of the fire when he heard “a muffled thump” that came from outside. He then reported seeing smoke outside his office window. He added that the company’s PHH units operate under pressure.
Manns also said the PHH furnace at the center of the incident was not due for a turnaround until 2014. He added that Axiall conducts their turnarounds every two years.
Manns also reiterated DEQ’s initial non-detect readings during the fire. He added, however, that the position of the company’s air monitoring detection systems may have had an effect on the non-detect reading.
Axiall’s report also restates the company’s claim that “a review of onsite and offsite ambient air monitors did not detect” any of the chemicals listed as being released.
Langley, however, said DEQ will be taking a close look at whether the fire had an impact on the surrounding area. While none of Axiall’s employees were injured, the incident sent more than 27 people to area hospitals.
“We’re aware of what happened on the interstate,” he added. “When we say impact we mean did it raise the levels of those harmful pollutants in the atmosphere in those places where it was a danger to human health.”
Langley said he was unsure of when DEQ’s investigation on the matter will end, adding that “it could take a long time.”
In their report to DEQ, Axiall officials listed the remedial actions that were implemented after the blaze to prevent “a reoccurrence of the incident,” which included updating the company’s start-up procedures, defining other automatic shutdown scenarios “specific to furnace over-firing,” and updating furnace safe operation. The company also recommended training “for all PHH personnel on all changes prior to unit restart.”
Axiall’s report was issued one month after the company released a similar report on a fire that occurred at their Westlake plant in December 2012, an incident that also remains under investigation with DEQ.
Posted By: Michael Tritico On: 5/7/2014
Whether the non-detection of toxic materials happened at the company's onsite monitors or at the State's offsite monitors, there is the obvious reality: the monitoring systems are useless, just there to make the public think somebody is doing something useful. It is really a disgrace to mislead the public.