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(Rick Hickman / American Press Archives)

(Rick Hickman / American Press Archives)

Axiall: Pipe failure behind December blaze

Last Modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 4:36 PM

By Frank DiCesare / American Press

Axiall officials say pipe failure is what led to a fire at their Westlake facility last December. The incident sent at least 27 people to area hospitals.

In a 30-minute presentation to area media officials on Monday, Plant Manager Jon Manns said a pipe failed in one of the plant’s PHH units, releasing gases, which caused the Dec. 20 blaze. He said Axiall is currently working with an engineering firm to determine the cause of the pipe’s failure. 

Manns later added that the PHH units are under pressure. No mention was made of an explosion that was reported to the American Press from several sources, including the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, on the day of the incident.

At the outset, Manns told media officials that some of the information pertaining to the fire would not be divulged because the incident is still under investigation. 

“There is clearly a chance for litigation with this issue,” he added. “In terms of our investigation, it is not yet complete.”

Manns said the PHH unit at the center of the incident was not due for a turnaround until 2014. He said Axiall conducts their turnarounds every two years.

The incident prompted state police to close both sides of Interstate 10. Manns said he was in his office at the time when he heard “a muffled thump” from outside. He said he then saw smoke from outside his office window.

Manns said that the three chemicals under investigation are hydrochloric acid, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride. He said the independent consulting firm Axiall hired to determine how much of these chemicals were released as a result of the incident has not yet completed their calculations.

He added that hydrochloric acid is readily absorbed in water.

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.

Manns also addressed some of the rumors that surfaced in the wake of the incident, including one of a “suspicious package” that was reported at the plant. Manns said Axiall contacted the Coast Guard and state police who determined that the package was a contractor’s bag that was left behind at the plant.

He said Axiall invests $15 million a year on its infrastructure. He called the company’s Westlake plant “our flagship facility.” 

“We’re serious about things like this not happening and we apologize for what happened.”

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