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More Questions About Dow Chemical Leak

Jul 24, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Following the Dow Chemical leak in Hahnville, Louisiana earlier this month, an investigator from the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been a at the plant every day trying to determine what happened.  According to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, DEQ has been accused by an environmental group of ignoring problems at the Dow plant.

The Dow chemical spill, which involved the chemical ethyl acrylate, occurred early in the morning of July 7, and forced evacuation of the area around the Dow Chemical plant. Some residents were forced out of their homes until Wednesday afternoon. Because of winds and storms in the area, ethyl acrylate fumes were carried as far away as New Orleans, and St. Bernard’s Parish. Dozens of people were treated at the hospital for ethyl acrylate side effects. The foul-smelling chemical is known to cause nausea and headaches, and can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat.

According to the Times Picayune, at Monday's meeting an official with the  Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a state environmental group, said that the Dow Hahnville plant had been site of three previous ethyl acrylate leaks between October 2008 and June 15, 2009.  "Both Dow and DEQ have failed to take the appropriate steps to get to the root of the problem and protect the public," the officials said.

A spokesperson for Dow said that after the June 15 release - which was from the same tank that produced this month's leak - the plant draining the vessel in order to inspect it for structural problems. A reaction in that tank, which was almost empty at the time, caused the July 7 release.  The two other releases, in October 20, 2008 and April 22, occurred in two separate tanks, the spokesperson said.

The DEQ official who attended Monday's meeting told the Times-Picayune that  and investigator has been at the Dow plant since the July 7  and is "asking some very tough questions about what happened, how it happened and how can we prevent it from happening again."

Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune is also reporting that the St. Charles Parish emergency operations center has come under fire for what some have called its slow response to the July leak.  According to the Times-Picayune, the Parish got the first report that something was wrong at the Dow plant just before 4:00 a.m., after employees at a nearby Shell chemical plant called to report an acrylic odor.  

The parish notified Dow, and the leak was discovered.  By 4:56 a.m., Dow was reporting that the situation was "under control".  But around 6:00 a.m., residents near the plant were calling in to report the odor.  By 7:27, residents near the plant were "advised" to leave, but it was not an order, the Times-Picayune said.

The parish's emergency preparedness director defended the center's performance to the Times-Picayune.  "We had information from Dow, backed up from our operators' information (about the properties of the chemical) and State Police that this was not a life-threatening release."

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