Below, the petrochemical injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia, LLP discuss the recent explosion, potential risks for nearby residents, and why it’s important for workers and residents to know their rights.
Dow Plant Explosion Contamination Risks
On Friday, July 14, 2023, there were a series of explosions and a fire at the Dow Chemical Plant in Plaquemine, Louisiana. The explosions occurred in the plant’s Glycol 2 unit, which manufactures ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. The cause of the explosions is still under investigation.
The explosions and fire sent a mushroom cloud into the air and shook homes for miles around. There were no injuries reported, but the explosions forced a shelter-in-place order for residents within a one-half mile radius of the plant.
Air monitoring by Dow, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), and a third-party monitoring service did not detect any hazardous materials in the air. However, the explosions did release a small amount of ethylene oxide into the atmosphere. Subsequent investigations also suggest that ethylene oxide leached into local water supplies.
The LDEQ believes that water runoff from extinguishing the fires at the plant flowed over into a canal that leads to the facility’s outfall on the Mississippi River. The day after the explosion water samples showed 39 parts per million (ppm), which is almost toxic to fish. The American Chemistry Council considers 41 ppm to be the maximum safe level of ethylene oxide.
The plant was evacuated and remains shut down while the investigation into the explosions is ongoing. Dow has said that it is committed to providing updates to the public as more information becomes available.
Not the First Dow Plant Incident Worrying Residents
The Plaquemine Dow Plant Explosion is the latest in a series of chemical plant accidents in Louisiana. In March 2023, a chlorine leak at the BioLab plant in Westlake forced thousands of people to evacuate. And in November 2019, a tank rupture at the Dow plant in Plaquemine sent a shock wave that shook homes for miles around.
These accidents have raised concerns among residents about the safety of chemical plants in Louisiana. Environmental advocates have called for stricter regulations on chemical plants, and some residents have even called for the closure of the Dow plant in Plaquemine.
What is Ethylene Oxide?
Ethylene oxide is a colorless, flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor. It is a versatile chemical with a wide range of uses, including:
- Sterilizing medical equipment and supplies
- Manufacturing ethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze
- Making other chemicals, such as detergents, plastics, and pesticides
- Fumigating agricultural products to control pests
Ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen, and exposure to it can cause a variety of health problems, including:
- Reproductive problems
- Eye, skin, and respiratory irritation
- Central nervous system damage
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for ethylene oxide of 1 ppm in air. This means that the average concentration of ethylene oxide in the air at a workplace should not exceed 1 ppm for an eight-hour workday.
Exposure to ethylene oxide can occur through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion. Inhalation is the most common route of exposure. Symptoms of ethylene oxide exposure can vary depending on the level of exposure and the length of time of exposure. Short-term exposure to ethylene oxide can cause symptoms such as:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
If you are concerned about your exposure to ethylene oxide, you should talk to your doctor. They can assess your exposure level and recommend ways to reduce your risk.
What are the Dangers of Living Near a Chemical Plant?
Plaquemine and surrounding Iberville Parish is home to many refineries, plants, and industrial facilities. The sight of chemical plants dotted across the landscape has become an all-too-familiar scene. These facilities play a crucial role in producing various products we use in our daily lives.
However, the convenience and economic benefits come with a significant cost, especially for those who live nearby. Living near a chemical plant exposes residents to a range of dangers that can affect their health, environment, and overall quality of life. Below, we explore the dangers of living in close proximity to chemical plants.
One of the most prominent dangers of living near a chemical plant is the constant exposure to air pollution. Chemical plants release various harmful substances into the air, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, and toxic gases. These pollutants can have severe health effects, especially on vulnerable populations such as children, older individuals, and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Long-term exposure to air pollutants from chemical plants can lead to respiratory diseases, cardiovascular problems, and even cancer.
Accidents and Explosions
Chemical plants inherently carry the risk of accidents and explosions. Despite stringent safety regulations, accidents can occur due to human error, equipment malfunction, or unforeseen circumstances. The consequences of such incidents can be catastrophic, resulting in injuries, deaths, and widespread property damage.
Chemical plants often require vast amounts of water for their operations. The disposal of wastewater and chemical byproducts poses a significant risk of contaminating nearby water sources. Accidental spills, leaks, or improper waste disposal practices can lead to the release of toxic chemicals into rivers, lakes, or groundwater. Contaminated water can have severe consequences on human health, aquatic life, and agricultural productivity.
Apart from water, soil can also become contaminated due to the release of hazardous substances from chemical plants. Contaminated soil can pose a threat to human health through direct contact or by contaminating crops grown in the area. Moreover, soil contamination can persist for extended periods, affecting future generations and requiring costly remediation efforts.
Living near a chemical plant is associated with various health risks, ranging from mild irritations to severe illnesses. As mentioned earlier, the air pollution can lead to respiratory issues, but it can also cause headaches, dizziness, and eye irritations. Additionally, exposure to certain chemicals may result in long-term health effects such as neurological disorders, reproductive problems, and an increased risk of cancer.
Reduced Property Values
The presence of a chemical plant in the vicinity can negatively impact property values. Potential buyers and renters are often reluctant to invest in properties located near industrial facilities due to the perceived health risks and safety concerns. As a result, homeowners near chemical plants may experience difficulty selling their homes or may face significant decreases in property value, impacting their financial well-being.
Mental Stress and Anxiety
Living in constant fear of potential accidents or health hazards can lead to chronic stress and anxiety among residents. The uncertainty of safety and well-being can take a toll on mental health, leading to increased levels of anxiety and a decreased sense of community cohesion.
What Can be Done to Keep Residents Safe?
While chemical plants play a vital role in our modern society, it is essential to recognize the inherent dangers they pose to nearby residents and the environment. Governments and industries must prioritize the safety and well-being of communities living in close proximity to these facilities. This can be achieved through stricter regulations, improved safety measures, and increased transparency in communication with the public.
Safety advocates are calling on plant leaders and lawmakers to increase transparency and implement better monitoring for air and water contamination. Everyone deserves the right to live in a safe and healthy environment, free from the constant threat of hazardous chemical exposure.
What to Do if You are Injured or Ill due to Contamination
If you believe you have been injured or fallen ill due to chemical contamination, it is crucial to prioritize your health and safety. Chemical exposure can have serious consequences, and immediate action is necessary. Here are the steps you should take if you find yourself in such a situation:
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
Your health should be your primary concern. If you experience symptoms of illness or injury that you suspect are related to chemical contamination, seek medical attention without delay. Call emergency services or go to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Prompt medical care can make a significant difference in your recovery.
Inform Medical Professionals
Be sure to inform the medical professionals about the circumstances of your potential exposure to chemicals. Provide them with as much detail as possible about the incident, the chemicals involved (if known), and any symptoms you may be experiencing. This information will help them diagnose and treat your condition appropriately.
Report the Incident
Contact the relevant authorities to report the incident. Depending on the location and the nature of the chemical contamination, this could be your local environmental agency, health department, or emergency response hotline. Reporting the incident is essential as it helps authorities investigate the situation and take necessary actions to prevent further harm.
Notify Your Workplace or School
If the exposure occurred at your workplace or school, inform your supervisor or teacher about the incident. This is crucial for ensuring the safety of others and initiating any necessary workplace or school-wide response protocols.
Inform Your Neighbors and Community
If you suspect that the chemical contamination may have affected others in your community, inform your neighbors and encourage them to seek medical attention if they experience any related symptoms. Together, you can advocate for a collective response to the incident and hold responsible parties accountable.
Follow Safety Guidelines
If authorities issue safety guidelines or recommendations for residents in the affected area, make sure to follow them diligently. This may include instructions for staying indoors, avoiding certain activities, or using protective equipment. Adhering to these guidelines can minimize further exposure and protect your health.
Keep detailed records of the incident, including the date, time, location, and circumstances of the exposure. Note any symptoms you experience and the medical treatment you receive. Documentation will be essential if you need to file a claim or take legal action in the future.
Contact a Lawyer
If you suspect that your exposure to chemical contamination was due to negligence or misconduct by a company or organization, consider seeking legal advice. A lawyer experienced in environmental or personal injury law can help you understand your rights, guide you through the legal process, and pursue compensation for damages if applicable.
Kherkher Garcia Helps Louisiana Residents Protect Their Rights
If you have been injured or become ill due to a chemical plant explosion, fire, or contamination, contact Kherkher Garcia for help. Our petrochemical injury lawyers have been representing injured victims for more than 30 years. We know how devastating an injury can be for you and your loved ones. Our goal is to provide you with the legal support you need to obtain justice and compensation for your losses.
To find out how our team can help you, call us at 713-333-1030, or complete our online contact form. We provide every potential client with a free consultation to assess your situation and determine the best options for obtaining compensation.