Vinyl chloride unit explodes at Geismar plant

John Dupont
A large cloud of smoke hovered over the Westlake Chemical Geismar Vinyls Complex after an explosion Thursday morning.

A vinyl chloride unit exploded and caught fire this morning at the Westlake chemical plant in Geismar.

The explosion occurred around 8 a.m., according to Karen Khonsari, environmental health safety manager for Westlake.

The fire was stabilized as of 10 a.m., according to Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley.

The damaged unit included three chemicals: vinyl chloride monomer, hydrochloric acid and chlorine.

No injuries were reported, Wiley said.

A roadblock remained in place along La. 73 from the La. 30 intersection to the River Road, not far from the Ascension/Iberville Parish line.

Authorities as of Thursday afternoon were awaiting word from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environment Quality on how much of the chemicals were released into the air.

Cleanup efforts began immediately after the blaze, Wiley said.

A one-mile shelter was put in place, he said, but no evacuations had been ordered. The shelter was lifted by 1 p.m.

Residents in the area were notified through phone alerts by the parish, Wiley said.

Law enforcement from Louisiana State Police Troop A and Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office set up roadblocks through the area.

Off-site impact was minimal, but the one-mile radius notification was put into place as a precaution, according to Rick Weber, director of the Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

More information on the precautions are available at www.ascensionparish.org.