UPDATE: Third fire at BioLab in four years

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2024

A fire at BioLab Tuesday morning led to  precautionary shelter-in-place orders and a brief closure of the Interstate 10 Calcasieu River bridge. BioLab produces swimming pool chemicals, and the facility entrance is near the eastbound bridge feeder ramp in Westlake.      

At 2:30, BioLab spokesperson Daniel Hoadley confirmed no injuries were reported, smoke was contained and operations would resume in “short order.”

“We also want to thank the first responders and local authorities for their collaboration in swiftly bringing this incident under control. As always, the safety and well-being of our community remains our top priority,” he said.

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The Westlake Fire Department was first on the scene. Fire Chief Jonathan Duff explained that he was joined by Ward 6 firefighters, the DeQuincy Fire Chief and fire and safety response units from neighboring industries.

“Their operators (BioLab’s) dealt directly with the chemicals,” Duff said. “We were there for support.”

The cause of the fire is being investigated, according to Matthew Gaspard, Louisiana State Police. Determining what started it could take a day or two.

Duff said a manufacturing byproduct of the facility, trichloroisocyanuric acid, reacts to even the smallest amount of water creating a thermal reaction that makes the product smoke. It sounds counterintuitive but the best option for dealing with the smoke is to inundate the byproduct with water, or depending on the amount of reactive product, to fully immerse it in water.  

The public was first notified around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning of the incident. That’s when the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness issued a precautionary shelter-in-place for a quarter-mile radius around BioLab due to a warehouse fire. Five minutes later the precautionary shelter-in-place area was revised to a quarter-mile south of the facility due to wind direction.

About an hour later, the shelter-in-place was extended to a half-mile radius from the facility and I-10 was closed for about an hour, Gaspard said.  

“When State Police decided to shut down the bridge, it was because the smoke was drifting across the bridge, really as an overabundance of caution,” Duff added.

In March 2023, BioLab in Westlake had a similar incident. The Chemical Safety Board determined the cause of the chlorine gas leak was rainwater coming into contact with stored trichloroisocyanuric acid — which caused a chemical reaction, decomposition and fire. Recommendations included implementing processes and safeguards to protect against these hazards. 

In August 2020, Hurricane Laura wind damage caused a fire at BioLab, creating smoke and chemical emissions that took 50 hours to put out after it was reported. The plant had to rebuild and did not reopen until November 2022.