2 dead, 30 hospitalized in chemical leak at LyondellBasell chemical plant in La Porte

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Thursday, July 29, 2021
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Two people were killed and 30 people hospitalized were part of the 42 total people who required treatment for injuries, ranging from minor to critical.

LA PORTE, Texas (KTRK) -- As of Wednesday night, two people involved in the chemical release at LyondellBasell in La Porte were still hospitalized. That's an improvement from earlier in the day when there were three.

Now, many of the injured who have been released from the hospital are looking into their legal options.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," said personal injury attorney Miriah Soliz. "I can tell you I'm investigating over a dozen claims right now."

She said the plant workers she's representing have severe injuries that they're continuing to feel the effects of, along with the anguish of a mass casualty event.

"It's just awful," Soliz said. "They have severe trauma. They're seeing people screaming and yelling, grown men crying, getting flooded with gas and fumes. Unable to breathe, making them very ill, and not knowing whether their friends survived or not."

WATCH: Dozens of claims being investigated after chemical leak, lawyer says

"It's just awful," said a personal injury lawyer. "They have severe trauma."

Plant officials said approximately 100,000 pounds of acetic acid was released in a chemical leak at the La Porte facility Tuesday night that left two people dead.

Soliz said she plans to file a temporary restraining order Thursday to make sure she and her team of hired experts can do their own investigation and see exactly what things were like on the day of the incident.

"It shouldn't have happened, but I'm going to make sure my clients get the full amount of damages allowed under the law," Soliz said.

The two people killed in the leak were contractors for the plant, according to LyondellBasell. Out of the 30 workers who were hospitalized, one person suffered burns while the rest suffered from respiratory complications.

The Harris County Precinct 8 Constable's Office said the 30 people hospitalized were part of the 42 total people who required treatment for injuries, ranging from minor to critical.

All other employees and contractors at the La Porte facility had been accounted for, officials said.

Officials did not immediately release the identities of the two contractors killed.

As for the cause of the leak, company officials said there is still much they don't know.

It was a chaotic scene at the plant Tuesday night with a very large presence of first responders.

According to LyondellBasell, an acetic acid leak occurred in the facility located at 1515 Miller Cut-Off Road at about 7:35 p.m. Tuesday.

Approximately 100,000 pounds of acetic acid was released during the Tuesday night incident at the LyondellBasell La Porte complex.

At the time, the unit affected was partially shut down due to planned maintenance.

Approximately 100,000 pounds of acetic acid was released before the leak was quickly stopped, officials said.

According LyondellBassell, it was an acid that is used in food-grade vinegar. It can cause severe burns and is very dangerous if swallowed or inhaled.

Plant employees and various local responding agencies began the clean up and decontamination process overnight.

There is no current threat with the air quality, Harris County Pollution Control officials said. Ongoing air quality monitoring indicates that there is no offsite impact.

"There is no shelter in place or other protective actions being recommended for the La Porte community at this time," read a statement issued by La Porte EMS Tuesday night.

LyondellBasell employees were given the all clear at the plant early Wednesday morning.

"No one ever wants an incident like this to happen, and when it does, it has an effect on us all," LyondellBasell Senior Vice President Michael VanDerSnick said. "We will find out what led to this release, and we'll work to understand how it happened to prevent situation like this from ever happening again."

Harris County Constable Precinct 8 will be the lead jurisdiction in the investigation and the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office will assist.

"We're not into the investigation, far enough, to be able release a great deal of information, because it is under investigation," Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Bob Royall said.

Royall said the unit must be decontaminated before investigators can investigate thoroughly.

"Sometimes the terminology in these situations, when there's a leak, you think of something pouring out, but a leak could also be something exploded off the top and the chemical came out," Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said. "So, once we get into the investigation, we'll be able to specifically detail that out. But when that came out, obviously it impacted a lot of people. So at this point, we, the fire marshal's office, are calling it a chemical explosion until we know more."

Meanwhile, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement on Twitter saying she's "heartbroken" to hear the news.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released a statement as it continues to be in contact with facility officials. TCEQ also added that a chemical mixture including acetic acid was released:

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continues to support first responders and other local personnel following a chemical leak at LyondellBasell Industries in La Porte that claimed the lives of two people.

TCEQ arrived at the facility late Tuesday night, July 27, to support the ongoing efforts of emergency responders. In addition to the two fatalities, two people were sent to the hospital and 30 others were evaluated for medical treatment.

Company officials have confirmed that the leak has been stopped and came from an acetic acid reactor. The released material was a mixture of catalyst, acetic acid, methyl iodide, and hydrogen iodide. Most of the material was contained and will be treated in the facility's on-site wastewater treatment plant.

TCEQ resumed efforts on July 28 to ensure necessary actions are taken for the proper clean-up at the site. The agency will conduct a follow-up investigation to evaluate the release and impact.

LyondellBassel sent out an updated statement on the incident early Wednesday morning:

"As of 10 p.m. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, we have accounted for all personnel who were working within the acetyls unit area of our La Porte Complex, where the leak occurred. This unit was shut down earlier today for planned maintenance. The leak is stopped and clean-up is in progress. Air monitoring continues to demonstrate no levels of concern for the community. All appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified.

We are saddened to confirm two contractors were fatally injured in this incident. Five contractors and a LyondellBasell employee were transported to local hospitals for treatment. Our thoughts and prayers go out to these individuals and their families.

We appreciate the assistance of emergency responders from the City of La Porte and Channel Industries Mutual Aid who responded to the incident. An investigation into the cause of this incident is already underway.

We will provide more information as soon as it is available. We are posting incident updates on www.lybresponse.com. "