Residents urged to shelter after chemical leak in US plant

Residents living in the Plaquemine area of the southern US state of Louisiana were urged to take shelter after the release of chlorine following a local chemical plant fire.

Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said the fire and chlorine leak took place on Monday night at Olin Chemical, a third-party company that works at the site of the Dow Chemical Plant, Xinhua news agency reported.

“We’ve set off the sirens and we’ve got several roads closed,” Stassi said.

The fire broke out at 8.40 p.m. local time (0140 GMT on Tuesday) and was extinguished by 9.30 p.m. local time (0230 GMT), but the crew were still working to contain the chlorine spill, the sheriff said.

Parish President Mitch Ourso said the smell of chlorine was being reported in the air several miles from the facility. Authorities are asking residents living south and east of the plant to go inside, turn off air conditioners and close all doors and windows immediately.

However, the sheriff said no evacuations were being ordered since chlorine levels outside of the plant were not dangerously high.

So far there have been no injuries reported inside or outside the plant.

“A chlorine release has occurred within Olin’s facility in Plaquemine … A shelter in place has been implemented and local roads have been temporarily closed,” said a statement from Olin Corporation.

“Site emergency response was immediately engaged and we are working to stop the release. Employees at the facility took immediate safety precautions while the team began working to address the situation,” it said.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Greg Langley said inspectors were headed to the scene.

Exposure to chlorine can irritate the eyes, upper respiratory tract and lungs, according to a fact sheet from the Environmental Protection Agency. At higher levels, it can cause chest pain and vomiting. It is extremely irritating to the skin and can cause severe burns with high enough exposure.

In 2016 and in 2017, Olin Corp.’s operations inside the Dow Hydrocarbons complex had three chlorine leaks that injured a contract worker, prompted worker evacuations and road closures though it did not pose a risk to the public at the time, said a report from local media outlet The Advocate.

One of the leaks, in December 2016, stemmed from a massive power outage that Entergy, Louisiana’s biggest electricity provider, later said was triggered by the burning of sugar cane, while the others in September 2017 were caused after four electrical rectifiers tripped, said the report.

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