Two Fatal Accidents Rock Chemicals Sector

29.07.2021 - Two fatal accidents, one in Germany, another in the US, rocked the international chemical industry on Jul 26 and 27, killing at least four workers. Another five people were still missing and feared dead on Jul. 28.

Toxic emissions thought likely in Chempark blast

Repercussions from the explosion in a toxic waste treatment facility at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, Germany on Jul. 26 will undoubtedly be the most severe. Environmental authorities believe that the toxic cloud released by the explosion may have exposed nearby residents to dioxins, furans and PCBs.

The accident a day later at a US LyondellBasell (LYB) plant in La Porte, Texas, also killed two workers but the physical damage was less severe. No cause or damage estimate had been revealed for either at press time.

The state attorney’s office is investigating the Chempark incident that began in a storage tank for what site services company Currenta identified as organic solvents and spread to other storage tanks. Reports said firefighters were able to avert an explosion in a second tank. State authorities said the solvents may have been chlorinated.

Two workers at the waste facility were pronounced dead shortly after the explosion. Of the 31 injured, five were taken to a hospital intensive care unit. Press reports late on Jul. 28 quoted Currenta as saying there was “scant hope” of finding the five still missing workers alive. 

The city of Leverkusen closed nearby facilities, including children’s playgrounds, while warning residents near the plant not to work in their gardens or harvest their produce.

The 70 companies located in the chemical park, which also operates nearby facilities in Dormagen and Uerdingen, Germany, include Bayer, Lanxess, Covestro, Linde Gas and energy provider RWE. Currenta, formerly owned by Bayer and Lanxess, now belongs to Australia’s Macquairie, a private equity group specializing in infrastructure management.

LyondellBasell plant leaked acetic acid

At La Porte, LyondellBasell reported that on Jul. 27 around 100,000s lbs. of food grade acetic acid had been leaked from an acetyls facility, triggering an explosion that killed two contract workers. The plant had been shuttered for maintenance earlier.

Another 30 workers at the plant were taken to local hospitals, with one reportedly suffering from burns, while the rest were admitted with respiratory problems. Some of the workers were thought to be in critical condition.

LyondellBasell said there was no shelter in place order for residents of the area, and no toxic emissions were registered.

The material released at La Porte was described as a mixture of catalyst, acetic acid and hydrogen iodide. Most of the material was contained and was to be treated at the facility’s on-site wastewater treatment plant, the company said.                                                           

In an evening update on Jul. 27, LYB said the affected plant had been decontaminated.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist