One dead, 77 injured in US chemical plant blast

Washington, June 14 (IANS) At least one person was killed and 77 injured in an explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant in Indian-American governor Bobby Jindal’s home state of Louisiana in southern US.

“This has been a tragic incident,” said Republican Jindal Thursday, during a briefing near the plant in Geismar, part of a heavily industrial region known as “Cancer Alley,” between capital Baton Rouge and the state’s biggest city, New Orleans.

Some environmental advocates cited by the Chicago Tribune said Thursday’s explosion should draw attention to hazards in a region once known as “Bhopal on the bayou.”

The Bhopal disaster in December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal in India, is considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals.

The corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is particularly dense with refineries and petrochemical plants, the Tribune said.

The surrounding region is the most prone in the nation to toxic oil spills and releases, according to US Environmental Protection Agency records.

Last year, the EPA region including Louisiana was second in the nation in toxic accident reports.

The fire, fuelled by the petrochemical propylene, burned for more than three hours, though government monitors had yet to detect dangerous levels of emissions, Jindal said.

As Jindal spoke in the televised briefing, a black plume could be seen flowing from a smokestack behind him at the Williams Olefins plant.

Jindal repeatedly dismissed the smoke as non-hazardous – just “emergency flaring, mainly a hydrocarbon, not an inhalation hazard.”

Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson agreed, saying the sight was common in the small town, which lies about 10 miles south of Baton Rouge along a curve of the Mississippi River and has a population of about 7,500.

The plant produces about 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer-grade propylene each year, according to the company’s website.

The explosion in Louisiana comes two months after a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, on April 17. In that incident, 15 people died and a significant portion of the town was damaged by the explosion.

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