(Natural News) Residents of the city of La Porte, Texas were ordered to evacuate and stay indoors on July 21 following a chemical leak from a factory. The La Porte Office of Emergency Management (OEM) issued the order after an incident that occurred in a Dow Chemical plant located in the city. Authorities eventually gave the “all clear” signal later that day.
A KHOU 11 report said OEM issued its first alert at 7:30 a.m. of July 21. The alert called on residents to remain inside their homes, close all doors and windows and turn off air conditioning. OEM tweeted later in the day: “Remain sheltered in place until you receive an All Clear phone call from the city.” OEM gave the all clear signal at around 10:47 a.m.
The La Porte Fire Department (LPFD) also issued an evacuation order for the half-mile radius surrounding the plant, which is located at 13300 Bay Area Boulevard. LPFD’s order remained in effect as of 10:47 a.m., when the OEM issued its all clear announcement. Ten homes were located within that radius, with all but two residents evacuated.
According to a Houston Public Media report, Dow reported a “process upset incident” at 7:27 a.m. of July 21 at the Bay Area Boulevard Facility. Subsequent updates by Dow elaborated that a chemical tanker truck was venting hydroxyethyl acrylate (HEA). Also called ROCRYL 420, HEA saw use in both coatings and adhesives too make them more resistant to scratches, chemicals and outside weather.
Exposure to HEA can cause various health problems. The chemical may trigger an allergic reaction and cause severe burns if the skin is exposed to it. It can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Ingestion of HEA can also prove harmful, according to Dow.
Harris County Pollution Control Services Department (PCS) meanwhile said that the leak occurred when the chemical tanker truck containing HEA over-pressurized. This subsequently caused the chemical to discharge via the tanker truck’s vent, which was discovered during a routine inspection. The tanker stopped emitting HEA by the afternoon of July 21 – baffling officials in turn.
La Porte officials feared a fire or explosion following the chemical discharge
PCS added that the reaction inside the chemical tanker led to high heat levels, which could potentially become explosive. Footage captured by KHOU 11 showed firefighters spraying down tanker trailers despite the lack of visible flames or smoke. The Houston Public Media report also noted that water was poured on tanks outside the chemical plant throughout the day to keep temperatures down and avoid an explosive reaction.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Dow also sent two emergency personnel to the plant to perform thermal assessments on the tanker trucks. The LPFD meanwhile said that the reaction appeared to have subsided. Both Dow and PCS assured that the chemical had not left the site. (Related: Four workers die from chemical leak at Texas DuPont plant with history of repeat violations.)
The chemical company wrote in a Facebook post: “There is no indicated by monitoring data that this event has caused off-site impact. However, out of abundance of caution, employees were evacuated and we continue to work with the [OEM] on a shelter in place. Thanks to the work of our employees, contract partners and emergency services, there are no injuries associated with this ongoing event.”
La Porte officials said on July 22 that “safe venting” of the chemical was still underway just before 2 a.m. of that day. They expressed concern over a possible risk of fire or explosion, something they used as a basis for keeping a number of residents living near the Dow facility evacuated.
Dow later said that the evacuation notice for La Porte residents had been lifted and that it is now safe for them to return home. It added that all road closures have also been lifted. While the leak was still ongoing as of writing, the company insisted there is no longer a risk to the community. (Related: California water wells saturated with extremely toxic cancer-causing chemical.)
According to Dow’s website, the 139-acre La Porte facility makes 1 billion pounds of products every year. It mainly produces polyurethanes, elastomers, specialty chemicals and compounds used in building and construction. It also employs 225 workers and 150 contractors.