LyondellBasell says the primary substance that leaked causing two deaths and 30 hospitalizations at its facility in La Porte on Tuesday evening is acetic acid.
According to a safety data sheet on the company’s website, glacial acetic acid also goes by the names ethanoic acid, methanecarboxylic acid, and ethylic acid.
Acetic acid is a flammable liquid that can cause severe skin burns and serious eye damage if a person is exposed. It can also produce a hazardous vapor.
According to the National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine, glacial acetic acid is a clear liquid with a strong odor of vinegar. It is corrosive to metals and tissue and is used to make other chemicals, as a food additive, and in petroleum production.
As a food additive, the World Health Organization lists acetic acid as not harmful in the level used as a flavoring agent.
The National Library of Medicine also notes glacial acetic acid is widely used as a substitute for cosmetic chemical peels because “it is readily ... available and affordable.” The organization warns that it can cause chemical burns to a person’s face.
According to LyondellBasell, acetic acid is an important intermediate chemical used in the manufacturing of vinyl acetate monomer (VAM), purified terephthalic acid (PTA), acetic anhydride, monochloroacetic acid (MCA), and acetate esters.
The company lists that glacial acetic acid in the strength at its facility is prohibited from being used in cosmetics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals, or any application involving human consumption.
In the LyondellBasell safety data sheet, first aid measures include moving someone who has been exposed out of the dangerous area and exposing that person to fresh air. Artificial respiration and oxygen may be required. In case of mild skin contact, contaminated clothing should be removed and skin washed thoroughly. In case of eye contact, eyes should be flushed with water for at least 15 minutes. In all cases of exposure, immediate medical attention is required.
In a news conference late Tuesday, the following additional substances were listed as being involved in the fatal incident:
Reports from the scene of the La Porte accident indicate the leak is contained and no orders for evacuations or to shelter-in-place have been issued.