Dow chemical leak contained

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008

Cracks in stack let materials out before being burned off


Staff Reporter

LULING – Officials at Dow Chemical’s St. Charles operations facility have completely shut down a chemical production unit flare in an effort to get to the bottom of a malfunction in the flare stack that caused the release of potentially dangerous chemicals last Saturday morning.

Tommy Faucheux, a local spokesman for Dow, said now that the flare is completely offline, workers can now evaluate what caused the cracks in the flare stack. These cracks allowed hazardous chemicals to seep out of the flare before being burned off in what he called a safe manner. He said several factors could have led to the cracks, but would not speculate as to the exact cause of the damage.

When the leak was discovered early Saturday morning, Faucheaux said the plant immediately took precautionary measures to evacuate all nonessential employees.

“The majority of the workers on hand during the incident were employees who needed to be there for operations,” said Faucheux. “We were operating at a base minimum, but we asked anyone who did not need to be there to leave. It was not a rushed evacuation.”

Faucheux said all nonessential workers were asked not to report to work through Tuesday.

Although concentration of the emissions was confined to the plant grounds, Faucheux said Dow officials alerted the St. Charles office of emergency preparedness, the Department of Environmental Quality and State Police hazardous materials unit immediately following the malfunction Saturday.

At Monday’s council meeting, Parish President V.J. St. Pierre told the council that benzene and butadiene, two chemicals used in the production of plastics, were emitted from the flare. He said parish officials alerted residents in the vicinity of the plant, but did not enforce an evacuation.

“The malfunction posed no public threat, but we had a responsibility to let them know what happened,” said Faucheux. “Residents were instructed to shelter within their homes.”

Dow officials had contacted the St. Charles Office of Emergency Preparedness on Wednesday to notify them that there is no longer a heightened state of awareness.

Faucheux explained that the flare stack, part of the Olefins II unit’s safety system, allows for processed materials to be burned off in a safe manner. The Olefins II unit is one of 20 units on the Luling site. Faucheux said the rest of the plant would operate as normal while work is done on the malfunctioning unit.