Iberville Parish Government emergency officials breathed a sigh of relief after a chlorine leak and fire at a chemical facility in Plaquemine ended with no injuries or residential damage.
The fire started shortly before 9 p.m. on April 18 in a compressor that converts gas to liquid, according to Greg Langley, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Olin Chemicals operates units inside the Dow Chemical plant. The concentration of chlorine released was less than 1 part per million, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso issued shelter in place. Residents were also asked to turn off air conditioners and close all windows and doors.
Shelter-in-place ended around 12:30 p.m. It lasted about 3.5 hours.
“It could have been much worse,” Ourso said. “No one was hurt in the complex and no one was defeated here in the audience.”
A Baton Rouge television station reported that 23 residents were taken to Ochsner Medical Center near Plaquemine.
None of the residents were hospitalized, according to Iberville Parish Director of Emergency Management Clint Moore.
“They weren’t necessarily hospitalized and, to my knowledge, none were admitted,” he said. “They were brought there as a precaution.”
The leak occurred at a plant less than a quarter mile from subdivisions in the north Plaquemine area.
The cloud hovering over the area created a disturbing picture, but was not as severe as it appeared, Moore said.
“It was chlorine, but it wasn’t 100% chlorine,” he said. “It’s been drastically watered down.
“The picture looks bad, but most of it was smoke and fire from the steam, but the exhaust still posed a community safety hazard,” Moore said. “It could have been so much worse… our hats off to those guys and gals in the petrochemical industry. They practice and preach safety en masse.
Public cooperation prevented an emergency situation from becoming much more difficult, said Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi.
“People reacted very well when we moved them, and I was so proud that my deputies who left their homes to help us – detectives as well as truckers,” he said. It’s a major case of road closures in both directions and working with West Baton Rouge and the State Police went smoothly, and due to the amount of chlorine, the amount of smoke and the steam, it sounded much worse than it really was. ”
Some residents said on social media that they had not received alerts by phone or through their television providers.
The Iberville Parish Government, Iberville Sheriff’s Office and Dow Chemical social media sites posted warnings about the leak.
Alerts were sent to all registered landlines and cellphones via 911, while others said they did not hear emergency sirens.
“When you turn on the sirens and you have to watch where the sirens you were turning on around the parish and you know the wind directions, you wouldn’t turn on the sirens somewhere behind White Castle if it’s not necessary, for example,” Ourso said. “So it was in the immediate area where the sirens were on in the perimeter where the winds were heading south.
“The number of sirens that went on that night was in the affected area, and it’s the people nearby who get the phone alert,” he said. “It’s tied to that particular area.”
Residents can register their cellphones with the 911 system on the Iberville Parish Government website, Moore said.
“People have gotten rid of landlines and no longer have priority cable, so it’s up to them to make sure 911 has their number to get in touch with them,” he said.