Baytown Sun, September 27, 2006

22 people treated from Baytown blast

Twenty-two people were treated at area hospitals after an explosion at the Bayer Material Sciences plant outside Baytown Tuesday.

The explosion occurred at 11:30 a.m. in a process vessel, or tank, at one of the facility's TDI, or toluene diisocyanate, units, Bayer spokeswoman Cherie Laughlin said. The explosion was confined to the plant and posed no threat to the community, Laughlin said.

Four of the 22 people treated were Bayer employees, while the others were contract employees of Brock Services, Jacobs and CB&I. All workers who were near the explosion site were accounted for, she said.

One contractor was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston with burns on his back. He also was treated and released Tuesday.

After being decontaminated for exposure to toluene at the Bayer site, the 20 others were taken by ambulance to San Jacinto Methodist Hospital. There, they were again decontaminated - that is, washed down with soap and water - and evaluated, and treated for irritation to their eyes, skin or respiratory systems, hospital spokeswoman Laurie Terry said. One employee was treated for minor lacerations sustained in the explosion. Terry said all of the workers treated at San Jacinto Methodist were released by Tuesday night.

Laughlin said immediately after the explosion, the plant activated its emergency response plan and its emergency brigade responded to the scene. All of the resources needed to respond to the incident were already at the plant, she said.

There was a release of ammonia that was "mitigated" within 10 minutes, Laughlin said. Bayer reported the release to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the National Response Center, she said. The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration also had been notified of the incident, she said.

Bayer is assembling an international team of experts to investigate the cause of the accident. Laughlin would not speculate on how long the investigation might take.

The plant will resume normal operations today, with the exception of the TDI unit that exploded. The other TDI unit was not affected by the blast, Laughlin said.

The TDI unit manufactures toluene diisocyanate, a chemical used in flexible foam applications. The unit experienced an explosion and fire in February 2004 during the restarting of its reactor. No one was injured in that event, which an internal investigation determined was caused by an over-concentration of feedstock chemicals.

In June 2005, Salvador Barba Sr., a contract employee with KBR, died after being doused by the corrosive chemical phenol after a gasket in a pipe valve failed while he was taking a shower at the end of his shift. An OSHA investigation determined that a primary contributing cause of the accident was unclear written procedures that led to a pressure buildup in the valve. OSHA issued Bayer two citations for workplace safety regulations and assessed a $5,000 fine. (By Ken Fountain)

Sept. 27, 2006, Houston Chronicle

Probe looks into plant blast's cause

Twenty-two are treated for burns and respiratory irritations from a boiler explosion

An investigation will continue today into the cause of a window-rattling explosion at a Bayer industrial park in Baytown that left 22 workers receiving treatment for respiratory irritations or burns.

The workers, some requiring oxygen after the explosion Tuesday triggered the release of ammonia and other carcinogenic chemicals, were run through a decontamination unit on the Bayer MaterialScience property before being taken by a parade of ambulances.

All but one of the workers were taken to San Jacinto Methodist Hospital in Baytown. The other was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

By late Tuesday night, all the workers had been released after receiving treatment for eye, nose, throat and skin irritations. One worker at San Jacinto Methodist also was treated for second-degree burns from the thermal explosion.

Bayer spokeswoman Cherie Laughlin declined to give the names of any of the injured workers, some of whom worked for Bayer directly and others for three contractors employed by Bayer at the chemical-manufacturing plant.

"The majority of the injuries that we saw were not serious, except for one who was suffering from asthma and another who was burned," said Laurie Terry, San Jacinto Methodist spokeswoman. She credited the hospital's quick emergency response for lessening the potential damage from the chemical releases.

Following their disaster plan, extra personnel were called to the hospital and set up a decontamination tent outside to carefully wash off any toluene residue from the workers before they were brought inside. Toluene diisocyanate, a hazardous carcinogen, was mixed with orthodichlorobenzene in a boiler that exploded about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. The chemical mixture is used to manufacture flexible foam for things such as cushions, said Laughlin.

According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the boiler explosion damaged some pipes on top of another vessel that contained 30,000 pounds of ammonia, which is highly toxic.

Clerks at nearby businesses saw a swath of gray vapor vent into the sky shortly after the loud boom from the explosion rattled their windows.

The amount released was not known. Federal regulators said the boiler mixture is hazardous and an immediate irritant. Andrea Morrow, the environmental quality spokeswoman in Austin, said all the ammonia is expected to be vented into the atmosphere. "Emergency responders are using water to mist the vapors and knock them down," she said.

All the chemical vapors released were the type that would have "an immediate impact" on any workers present, Morrow said. "These fumes are extremely irritating to the mucous and eye membranes. Think about if you were to get a whiff of an ammonia cleaner." No fumes at hazardous levels had escaped past Bayer's fence line, Morrow said.

Monitors recorded ammonia fumes at 5 parts per million. At that level it is considered an irritant but does not become hazardous in the work environment until it reaches 25 parts per million, she said.

Water runoff from the fire hoses was also being contained on the site so that it would not contaminate Cedar Bayou, which runs beside the industrial park off FM 565.

Laughlin said Bayer would have an expert team launch an investigation into the cause of the explosion.

Last year, an accidental release of phenol, a corrosive poison used in making thermo plastics, killed a contract worker at Bayer.

See also:
US: Explosion rocks Bayer plant in Baytown