Early on the night of July 27, 2021, a Texas chemical processing plant experienced an acidic leak that killed two people and injured many others.
The event happened inside the facility in La Porte, Texas, about twenty-five miles southeast of Houston. All workers were ultimately accounted for. As of 7 PM on July 28, twenty-eight of the thirty employees sent to local hospitals had been released. Decontamination and cleanup (primarily of acetic acid) is underway.
The facility praised their on-site incident response team, saying that a quick response stopped the leak and prevented further injuries. Air monitoring shows "no levels of concern for the community,” according to Harris County Pollution Control and an update from the facility.
The following day, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) deployed a team
to the incident site. The CSB’s role is to investigate chemical facility incidents, identify root causes, and make recommendations for preventing them in the future.
The company that operates the facility provides periodic updates here.
The cause of the incident is under investigation. The company hopes to learn what happened so they can take measures to prevent a similar incident in the future.
The chemicals involved in the incident were methyl iodide, hydrogen iodide, and methyl acetate, the facility says. The consequences of exposure to these substances range from skin and eye irritation to serious mental disorders, coma, and death.
The company said that about 100,000 pounds of a mixture containing acetic acid was released. Acetic acid is diluted in water to make white vinegar.
Emergency Response Takes a Team
When a hazardous substance is unexpectedly released, it takes a full team of properly trained, equipped personnel to stop the release and potentially save lives.
- Responders at the “first responder awareness” (FRA) level must know what to do if they witness or discover a hazardous substance release. These employees may alert others, sound alarms, and evacuate.
- First Responder Operations (FRO) personnel take defensive response actions like covering drains or closing vents, to prevent the release from spreading.
- Hazardous Materials Technicians, sometimes called hazmat techs or industry techs, take more “aggressive” response actions. These employees approach the point of a release to plug, patch or otherwise stop it.
- Hazardous Materials Specialists respond with technicians to stop the release. Specialists hold extensive knowledge about the chemicals on site, and act as a liaison with local emergency responders like fire and EMS.
- The Incident Commander oversees the entire emergency response scene.
HAZWOPER Training for Emergency Responders
Under its Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standard in 29 CFR 1910.120, OSHA requires training for every level of emergency responder—from awareness level to the incident commander.
Read more: Who Really Needs HAZWOPER Training?
To see who needs HAZWOPER training, how much training OSHA requires, and how often re-training is needed, view the graphic guides linked on Lion.com/HAZWOPER.
(Image credit: CNN.com)