Dow chemical leak contained

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008

Becnel files suit for delivery workers who were on site


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – Only days after a release of potentially dangerous chemicals from the Dow Chemical plant in St. Charles Parish, St. John attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. has filed a lawsuit against Dow on behalf of two St. John residents.

Becnel filed the suit in 29th Judicial District Court in St. Charles Parish on Monday, following the Saturday chemical release, which was confirmed by Dow officials.

Tommy Faucheux, spokesman for Dow, said nonessential employees were evacuated from the plant, and a road that runs between the Dow and Oxychem plants was shut down as a precaution. Additionally, residents in the area were advised to “shelter within their homes,” Faucheux said.

Becnel filed the suit, claiming a multitude of infractions and wrongdoing on the part of Dow that led to the suit. The two St. John residents are plaintiffs in the case since they were on the Dow site Saturday, delivering

food for workers there from an area restaurant where they worked, Becnel said.

Two chemicals, benzene and butadiene, were reportedly emitted from the unit flare, a tower that burns off the chemicals. However Faucheux said that a malfunction from cracks in the tower, caused materials to escape without being burned off.

Even though Faucheux said the release of the chemicals posed “no public threat,” the lawsuit was quickly filed since Becnel claimed Dow did not adequately warn residents in the area about the problem, did not respond properly, and did not have their unit and equipment inspected properly enough to avoid the problem occurring.

“From the workers we have talked to, this accident occurred long before Dow shut things down and told people to evacuate the area,” Becnel said. “According to DEQ requirements, the absolute minute an accident is found, DEQ must be notified and people must be told about it. That was never the case here for at least a day since they tried to keep it quiet.”

Faucheux completely disagreed with that claim by Becnel, saying that the company did, in fact, contact DEQ on Saturday when learning of the accident and got workers out as quickly as possible.

Specifically stated in the lawsuit, Becnel said the suit was filed for some of the following reasons:

—Releasing a hazardous and harmful substance to the atmosphere where they (Dow) knew or should have known members of the public would come into contact with it.

—For failing to properly handle and contain the hazardous and harmful substance which they were dealing with.

—In allowing to exist a hazardous situation consisting of faulty and insufficient procedures and work practices.

—In failing to properly warn petitioners to keep away from the substance.

—In failing to…enforce rules and regulations pertaining to the safe operation of the tasks being conducted at the time of the accident, which…would have averted the said accident.

—Inadequate and negligent training and hiring.

—Employing untrained or poorly trained employees and failing to properly train their employees.

—Failure to timely bring the situation under control.

Faucheux seemed surprised to even hear of the quick legal action during the middle of the week, and said Dow would have no comment until it had a chance to review the suit.

Becnel said that as a result of the exposure to the substance, his clients suffered “injuries, symptoms and damages. Petitioners have suffered or may suffer medical expenses and have suffered and/or will suffer lost wages or loss of earning capacity.”

He also is seeking damages for “fear, anguish, discomfort and inconvenience, as well as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and psychiatric and psychological damages, evacuation, and property damage.”

Becnel is seeking class action status for the suit.