(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 11:22 AM
The number of individuals treated for injuries related to Friday’s Axiall explosion has risen from 12 to 18.
Heather Hidalgo-LaFleur, director of communications at Christus St. Patrick Hospital, said 18 people were treated for injuries related to the incident. She declined to comment on the nature of the injuries, but added that all of the patients have been released from the hospital.
In an email Friday to the American Press, DEQ spokesman Tim Beckstrom said EMS workers were called to the scene and that people were complaining of respiratory problems. Beckstrom’s email also stated that “unknown amount EDC dichloroethane, hydrochloric acid and vinyl chloride were released to atmosphere.”
Beckstrom also sent a copy of the email to Greg Langley, press secretary at the state DEQ office, and Jean Kelly, the agency’s public information officer.
DEQ officials arrived on the scene Friday to conduct air tests outside Axiall’s plant and found a “non-detect” reading. The Calcasieu Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness issued a shelter in place at Western Heights Elementary School shortly after 2 p.m. for Westlake residents. DEQ officials went to the school to conduct air monitoring tests, which also produced “non-detect” readings. The shelter in place was lifted less than an hour later.
EDC dichloroethane, also known as ethylene dichloride, is a chlorinated hydrocarbon used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Axiall’s website states that the company “uses nearly all of the EDC that we produce in our production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic chemicals webpage states that “inhalation of concentrated ethylene dichloride vapor can induce effects on the human nervous system, liver and kidneys, as well as respiratory distress, cardiac arrhythmia, nausea and vomiting. Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure to ethylene dichloride produced effects on the liver and kidneys in animals.”
Vinyl chloride is also used in the production of PVC. The EPA’s toxic chemicals webpage states: “Acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride in air has resulted in central nervous system effects (CNS), such as dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches in humans. Chronic (long-term) exposure to vinyl chloride through inhalation and oral exposure in humans has resulted in liver damage. Cancer is a major concern from exposure to vinyl chloride via inhalation, as vinyl chloride exposure has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans.”
The EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A, human carcinogen.
Hydrochloric acid is used in the production of dyes, fertilizers and chlorides. EPA’s toxic chemicals webpage states that “acute (short-term) inhalation exposure may cause eye, nose, and respiratory tract irritation and inflammation and pulmonary edema in humans. Acute oral exposure may cause corrosion of the mucous membranes, esophagus, and stomach and dermal contact may produce severe burns, ulceration, and scarring in humans. Chronic (long-term) occupational exposure to hydrochloric acid has been reported to cause gastritis, chronic bronchitis, dermatitis, and photosensitization in workers.”
The EPA’s webpage further states that the agency “has not classified hydrochloric acids for carcinogenicity.”
Sgt. James Anderson, state police Troop D spokesman, told the American Press on Friday that motorists drove through “the product” as it was coming through the smoke along Interstate 10 and were sent to the hospital for observation.
Axiall’s explosion occurred Friday afternoon in the plant’s Number 2 furnace of its PHH unit, which holds vinyl chloride and hydrochloric acid. A huge plume of smoke could be seen for miles billowing from the plant. The company’s internal fire department responded to the blaze, extinguishing it within an hour, and issued an all-clear notice shortly before 3 p.m. on Friday.