LA PORTE, Texas – Two people are dead and dozens of employees were injured following a chemical leak Tuesday night at the LyondellBasell Industries in La Porte, according to the company’s site manager, Stephen Goff.
Crews responded to reports of an incident inside the acetyls unit at LyondellBasell Industries, which is located at 1515 Miller Cut-Off Rd., around 7:35 p.m.
On Wednesday morning, Goff said two contract workers were killed, 30 employees were hospitalized, including 24 who were treated and released, after 100,000 pounds of acetic acid was released. He said one employee suffered from a serious burn-related injury and others were respiratory in nature. Goff did not go into details on what killed the two contractors, who have not been identified. Goff said the leak was quickly stopped and is believed to be contained on the site, however, testing will be done to confirm.
He said all other employees working in the acetyls unit have been accounted for. Families still seeking information are urged to call 281-502-8119.
Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital has been identified as one of the hospitals that treated the victims. Hospital officials told KPRC 2 they have treated and released 16 workers. As of Wednesday afternoon, Harris County Constable Precinct 8 said at least 42 people have been treated with three still hospitalized and one in critical condition with respiratory issues and skin damage.
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What is acetic acid?
The chemical has been identified as glacial acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid, methanecarboxylic acid, and ethylic acid. Acetic acid is a process solvent used to produce purified terephthalic acid, which is a key intermediate for a range of applications, including polyester esters, fibers, containers, film and tapes. Another important use for acetic acid is in the production of acetic anhydride. Acetic acid is used to produce a broad range of acetate esters; the most important of which are ethyl acetate, n-butyl acetate and isopropyl acetate. These solvents find applications in coatings, inks, adhesives and cosmetics.
Goff said the leak was first reported at 7:30 p.m. at the acetyls unit. Company officials said part of the unit was shut down and planned maintenance was underway when the incident occurred. They said the leak came from an acetic acid reactor. The released material was a mixture of catalyst, acetic acid, methyl iodide, and hydrogen iodide, company officials said. Goff said most of the material was contained and will be treated in the facility’s on-site wastewater treatment plant.
Goff said the company is cooperating with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chemical Safety Board as they are conducting an investigation into the incident.
Harris County Pollution Control also responded to the scene to conduct air monitoring, according to LyondellBasell officials. They also said there was no level of concern for the community.
When KPRC 2 spoke to HCPC, officials said the following: “HCPCS did not conduct monitoring during this event. LyondellBasell conducted monitoring inside the fence line and no detections were reported. HCPCS did not identify any additional off site impacts since the event was contained on the LyondellBasell property.” When HCPC was asked if they received any word on a potential cause, officials said, “When LyondellBasell reported the incident, they reported it as a vapor release and a leak. The line that held the acetic acid was pressurized and that resulted in a leak of the acid accompanied by a large vapor cloud that impacted everyone on site.”
Chemical Safety Board announced that it is deploying a team to the LyondellBasell incident site and expect the team to arrive by Wednesday afternoon to begin their assessment.
“The CSB’s core mission activities include conducting incident investigations; formulating preventive or mitigative recommendations based on investigation findings and advocating for their implementation; issuing reports containing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations arising from incident investigations; and conducting studies on chemical hazards,” CSB’s statement read.
Manufacturing Operations Manager Michael Vandersnick said the company is working with authorities and there are no off-site impacts. Vandersnick promised to find out what happened and why during Wednesday’s news conference.
“The investigation is in the early stages and we anticipate it will take some time to conclude it (possibly months),” Jason Finnen with Harris County Precinct 8 said. “As you know, there are many witnesses to interview, which is ongoing at this time. The Fire Marshal’s Office, OSHA and TCEQ are also conducting their own investigations as well and we are working in conjunction with them to determine the cause.”
LyondellBasell released the following statement Tuesday on the La Porte incident:
“As of 10 p.m. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, we have accounted for all personnel who were working within the acetyls unit area of our La Porte Complex, where the leak occurred. This unit was shut down earlier today for planned maintenance. The leak is stopped and clean-up is in progress. Air monitoring continues to demonstrate no levels of concern for the community. All appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified.
We are saddened to confirm two contractors were fatally injured in this incident. Five contractors and a LyondellBasell employee were transported to local hospitals for treatment. Our thoughts and prayers go out to these individuals and their families.
We appreciate the assistance of emergency responders from the City of La Porte and Channel Industries Mutual Aid who responded to the incident. An investigation into the cause of this incident is already underway.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released the following statement Wednesday:
“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continues to support first responders and other local personnel following a chemical leak at LyondellBasell Industries in La Porte that claimed the lives of two people.
TCEQ arrived at the facility late Tuesday night, July 27, to support the ongoing efforts of emergency responders. In addition to the two fatalities, two people were sent to the hospital and 30 others were evaluated for medical treatment.
Company officials have confirmed that the leak has been stopped and came from an acetic acid reactor. The released material was a mixture of catalyst, acetic acid, methyl iodide, and hydrogen iodide. Most of the material was contained and will be treated in the facility’s on-site wastewater treatment plant.
TCEQ resumed efforts on July 28 to ensure necessary actions are taken for the proper clean-up at the site. The agency will conduct a follow-up investigation to evaluate the release and impact.”