Investigations Launched by U.S. Chemical Safety Board Regarding Two Louisiana Chemical Incidents

Washington, D.C. – April 4, 2024 – The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has initiated investigations into two separate incidents involving toxic chemicals released at facilities in Louisiana in 2023. The incidents under scrutiny include the discharge of hydrogen fluoride (HF) and chlorine at the Honeywell Performance Materials and Technologies facility in Geismar, LA, in January 2023, and the emission of ethylene oxide (EtO) at the Dow Chemical Louisiana Operations facility in Plaquemine, LA, in July 2023. Both occurrences were reported to the CSB in compliance with the agency’s Accidental Release Reporting Rule (40 CFR Part 1604).

Steve Owens, Chairperson of the CSB, emphasized the importance of addressing these incidents promptly: “With the recent elimination of the CSB’s investigation report backlog, we are now able to focus on investigating other significant chemical incidents reported to the agency under the Accidental Release Reporting Rule. While no serious injuries or fatalities were reported in either case, the release of highly toxic chemicals—hydrogen fluoride and chlorine at the Honeywell facility and ethylene oxide at the Dow facility—highlight potential risks to workers and nearby residents. Our aim is to prevent similar incidents from occurring at these facilities in the future.”

Honeywell Incident: On January 23, 2023, a rupture in a heat exchanger at the Honeywell facility in Geismar, LA, led to an explosion and the discharge of approximately 870 pounds of hydrogen fluoride (HF) and 1,700 pounds of chlorine. Local authorities closed nearby highways, and personnel at the facility followed shelter-in-place protocols. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries. Property damage at the site is estimated to be $4 million.

Dow Incident: A fire and explosion took place at the Dow facility in Plaquemine, LA, on July 14, 2023. Dow reported to the CSB that a detonation occurred in a pipe segment within a glycol manufacturing unit, part of the ethylene oxide (EtO) pressure relief system. Subsequently, hot combustion gases entered a distillation column reflux drum, causing high-pressure conditions that led to the rupture of the vessel. Ethylene oxide released through the rupture contacted air within downstream piping, resulting in a fire and explosion. Local authorities issued a shelter-in-place order for hundreds of residents within a half-mile radius of the plant. No injuries were reported, and the extent of property damage is yet to be determined.

The CSB, whose board members are appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation, does not issue citations or fines. Instead, it provides safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.

Image source: Honeywell