OSHA Probing Deadly Blast at Louisiana Chemical Plant

June 17, 2013

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating an explosion at a south Louisiana chemical plant that killed one worker and injured dozens of others, department spokesman Juan Rodriguez said Friday.

The cause of Thursday’s blast at the plant in an industrial area of Geismar wasn’t immediately determined, but the FBI ruled out terrorism.

“Right now, it’s really too early to determine anything,” Rodriguez said.

Officials from the plant’s owner, Williams Companies Inc., planned to hold a news conference Friday in Gonzales. Alan Armstrong, the company’s president and CEO, thanked law-enforcement officials and emergency workers for their “prompt and efficient actions.”

“We are focusing all necessary resources on assisting those impacted and determining the cause of the explosion,” Armstrong said in a statement.

The Tulsa, Okla.-based company said one of its employees, 29-year-old Zachary Green, died in the explosion. Green, a Hammond resident, was an operator at the plant and started working for Williams last October. His body was found by hazardous materials crews moving through the site after the blast, state police Capt. Doug Cain said.

Louisiana’s health department said 77 people were treated at hospitals and at least 51 of them had been released by Thursday evening.

Baton Rouge General Hospital said Friday that its burn center was treating four people who were injured in the explosion. One was listed in critical condition, one was in serious condition and two were in fair condition, the hospital said.

“Our team is doing everything we can for these brave patients and their families,” Dr. Flip Roberts, Baton Rouge General’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Kelly Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, said two of the 16 blast victims it has treated remained hospitalized Friday. One was in critical condition and the other was in fair condition, Zimmerman said.

Geismar is a Mississippi River community about 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge. The plant is one of scores of chemical and industrial facilities dotting the riverside between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It makes ethylene and propylene – highly flammable gases that are the basic building blocks in the petrochemical industry.

More than 300 people were evacuated from the site Thursday, but some stayed behind, officials said. Ten workers stayed in an explosive-proof control center as the fire raged, Cain said. The workers performed vital tasks, including shutting valves that rendered the plant safe, he said.

The state Department of Environmental Quality was testing the air around the plant for about 60 different types of pollutants.

“There have been no pollutant levels of any concern,” department spokesman Rodney Mallett said Friday.

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