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2nd victim dies from Louisiana chemical plant explosion

2nd victim dies from Louisiana chemical plant explosion
Thursday’s chemical plant fire in Geismer, La., is doused.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

HOUSTON--A second worker injured in an explosion and fire at a central Louisiana petrochemical plant has died and a few others remained hospitalized Friday.

Scott Thrower, 47, of St. Amant, La., suffered burns Thursday morning in the explosion at the Williams Olefins plant in Geismar, La., about 20 miles south of Baton Rouge, according to Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain.

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Thrower was treated at the burn unit at Baton Rouge General Medical Center and died midday Friday, Cain told the Los Angeles Times.

“He was one of the victims we were concerned with overnight,” Cain said, adding that it was unclear where Thrower was at the time of the explosion. “Unfortunately, we never had a chance to speak to him.”

The explosion also killed a 29-year-old worker identified Friday as Zachary Green of Hammond, La.

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Green had started working at the plant in October, according to Alan Armstrong, chief executive of Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams Cos., who held a briefing Friday at the Chamber of Commerce after meeting with Green’s family. Green’s relatives could not be immediately reached Friday.

“He will be deeply missed by his friends at the Geismar plant,” Armstrong said, adding that the explosion was a “tremendous tragedy.”

“A lot of us in this industry have spent much of our careers working to make it safe to operate. When something like this happens, honestly, it feel like a big failure,” he said.

Armstrong said two Williams employees and four contractors remained hospitalized. Of the 839 workers at the plant at the time, 100 were treated for injuries, plant manager Larry Bayer said during the briefing.

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The plant was in the process of expanding and the explosion occurred in a propylene fractionation area,  which makes propane and propylene, a highly-flammable chemical, the plant manager said.

The company is working with regulators to investigate the cause of the explosion, assess damages at the 25-acre site and reopen the plant, which Williams Cos. has owned since 1999, Armstrong said.  

He also said he was unaware of a class-action lawsuit filed Friday in state court by the Louisiana-based Becnel Law Firm on behalf of a worker on scaffolding at a nearby facility at the time of the explosion who claims he was harmed by the smoke plume.

“I have talked with some of our employees and I know they are hurting,” Armstrong said. “Once we better understand the cause we certainly will be taking necessary steps to prevent this from ever happening.”

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He said that employees would be paid while the plant is temporarily closed, but that it was not clear how extensive the damages are or how long it will take to reopen.

Bayer said about two dozen workers were staffing the plant in 12-hour shifts to make sure it remains safe as residual hydrocarbons are burned off through a smokestack, probably within the next day. He said they have been working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to “assess the plant’s structural integrity.”

“We are devoted to operating a safe facility. We are very proud of our safety record,” Bayer said.

He said he also visited Green’s family and an employee burned in the explosion.

 “They are holding up remarkably well,” Bayer said. “I’m sure they would like to understand what happened and we’re going to do our best to find out.”

The company does not have an inspection history with OSHA, and although OSHA staff members were at the plant Friday, they declined to release information, citing the  investigation, according to regional spokeswoman Diana Petterson in Dallas. She said that it was unclear how long the investigation will take, but that OSHA has up to six months.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also dispatched staff to the plant to monitor potential environmental effects.

“To date, air monitoring has not shown levels of concern to the surrounding community,” said regional spokeswoman Jennah Durant in Dallas.

She noted that within the last five years, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has taken two Clean Air Act enforcement actions against the plant, fining them $4,500.

But DEQ officials said the plant has a relatively clean record with only minor violations, and they saw no signs of air contamination Friday at a mobile air monitoring lab and 10 sites tested in surrounding communities.

“We have seen no levels of any concern of any pollutants,” said DEQ spokesman Rodney Mallett.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Twitter: @mollyhf


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