Report: Plant explosion released toxic chemicals

GEISMAR (AP) — The deadly June 13 explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins chemical plant in Geismar released more than

62,000 pounds of toxic chemicals during the accident that killed two workers and injured 114 others, according to a report

filed with state environmental regulators.

According to the report filed with the state

Department of Environmental Quality, the facility released 31,187

pounds of volatile

organic carbon material; 23,090 pounds of propylene; 2,398 pounds

of ethylene; 5,621 pounds of other volatile organic carbon

materials, including propane; and 48 pounds of benzene. According

to The Times-Picayune ( ), the report

says those are conservative estimates.

The cause of the blast and fire are still

not known, although investigators are focusing on a heat exchanger and

piping associated

with the manufacturing column that extracts propylene from natural

gas. A company spokesman said Tuesday that two contract

workers injured in the blast remained hospitalized.

At the time of the accident, air monitoring

did not detect harmful amounts of chemicals in the air, but residents

were advised

to "shelter in place" in their homes, with windows and doors shut,

EPA officials said at the time. DEQ reported that monitoring

on the day of the accident and the two days afterward found no

unsafe levels of chemicals and that Williams Olefins reported

its air monitoring also showed no measurable levels of chemicals

in the air.

But a survey of 67 people living near the

plant by a team of volunteers working with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade

took note

of 24 people who reported health problems after the accident,

ranging from respiratory and eye irritations to headaches and

nausea. The survey was conducted a day after the explosion near

the Jackie Robinson playground in Geismar.

The chemical releases included liquids and gases that escaped during the fire, which lasted from 8:37 a.m. until shortly after

noon, and gases and particles released from flares until about 4:30 p.m., the report said.

Some water used to fight the chemical fire

was captured in tanks or holding areas on site, according to the report,

but some

of that water left the plant site in storm drains or as sheet flow

across the property. A June 18 report by Williams Olefins

to DEQ said the wastewater releases may have violated the

company's permits for discharge of wastewater, including for benzene,

ethylbenzene and toluene.

The fire caused significant damage at the chemical plant, which was undergoing a $400 million expansion. When the expansion

is complete, the plant will be able to manufacture 1.95 billion pounds of chemicals a year.

In a news release Monday, the company said the scope of damage remains unclear.

"The plant remains shut down and the

expansion work that was occurring is temporarily suspended," said the

news release. "Neither

the full extent of the damage nor the time needed to make repairs

is known."

The accident is under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the independent federal

Chemical Safety Board, EPA and DEQ.

"At this point it is too early to determine how long the investigation will last, but statutorily, OSHA has up to six months

to complete the investigation," said Juan Rodriguez, a spokesman in OSHA's Dallas office.

"It is too early in the investigation to comment," said Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for the state DEQ. "We wouldn't want to

jeopardize the ongoing DEQ investigation, much less interfere with the other agencies."

Officials with the Chemical Safety Board on Tuesday did not return requests for information on its investigation.

"We are working in a cooperative and transparent manner with OSHA and CSB through this process," said Keith Isbell, a Williams

Olefins spokesman.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer,

D-Calif., chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works,

will hold a hearing

to examine the events leading up to the explosion as well as an

April 17 explosion at a fertilizer manufacturing plant in

West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 160, and

destroyed or damaged more than 150 homes and a 50-unit apartment