12 injured in Axiall explosion

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

An explosion at Axiall’s plant in Westlake Friday afternoon caused a large fire that sent toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

Twelve motorists were admitted to local hospitals for respiratory treatment. No fatalities or employee injuries were reported

in the incident, said Sgt. James Anderson, state police Troop D spokesman.

“People drove through the product as

the smoke was going through the interstate, and they are now at the

hospital under observation,”

Anderson said. “This is stuff you don’t want to breathe.”

Officials from the state’s Department

of Environmental Quality arrived on the scene to check for toxic

chemicals coming from

the smoke. The department found “unknown amounts” of EDC

dichloroethane, hydrochloric acid and vinyl chloride being released

into the atmosphere, said Tim Beckstrom, DEQ’s spokesperson.

The explosion happened in the plant’s

Number 2 furnace of its PHH unit shortly after 1:30 p.m., prompting

state police to

close both sides of Interstate 10. Axiall’s employees and

contractors were evacuated from the plant as the company’s internal

fire department responded to the blaze, extinguishing it within an

hour.

The Calcasieu Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness issued a shelter in place shortly after 2 p.m. for Westlake residents,

which was lifted less than an hour later,

Axiall officials issued an all clear notice at 2:50 p.m.

Patricia Prebula, Axiall’s spokesperson, said the company is unaware of any off-site impact. She added that the PHH unit,

which holds vinyl chloride and hydrochloric acid, is located on the plant’s southwest corner.

Beckstrom said DEQ officials also

conducted air monitor tests for acids and lower explosive limits. LEL’s

are the lowest percentage

of a gas or a vapor in the air capable of producing a flash of

fire in the presence of an ignition source. He added that the

tests are in their beginning stages and was unsure of when the

results will be determined.

In a statement to the American Press, Alan Chapple, Axiall’s director of corporate communications and public relations, said the company’s “investigation into

the cause of the fire is continuing.”