Axiall issues final report on 2012 fire

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

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


“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.