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Jun
2013
19

Pair of Plant Explosions Rock Louisiana, Keep OSHA Underfunding Flame Burning

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The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is investigating a plant explosion that killed one worker near Donaldsville, Louisiana, the second of two explosions that rocked the state last weekend. The other blast was in Geismar and claimed two lives.

The CF Industries Holdings plant in Donaldsville is the nation’s largest producer of nitrogen. The Geismar plant “annually produces approximately 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene.”

In Donaldsville, one person was killed and seven were when, it is speculated, workers pumped too much nitrogen into a vessel.  The lone fatality was a 34-year veteran at the plant named Ronald “Rocky” Morris Jr.  He had worked at the plant since he was 21.  

The explosion occurred in a part of the plant that had been closed down for maintenance.  Officials from the company confirmed that there was no fire or chemical release and that there was no hazard to the surrounding community.  Now OSHA, CFI and a third party contracted by CFI are looking into what took place.

After the tragedy, Lou Frey, Vice President and General Manager of the Donaldsonville Complex, told reporters:

Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected and their families.  Our focus is on our number one priority - the health and safety of our employees and the community. We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our employees.”

As the recent West, Texas explosion highlighted, OSHA is woefully underfunded, so much so that at current funding levels the average American workplace will receive an OSHA inspection once every 99 years.  To make matters worse, right-leaning leaders go out of their way to limit regulations as much possible in the name of protecting business interests. This puts entire communities at risk, as ThinkProgress explains:

Thousands of chemical plants across the country pose risks to big populations. Nearly 7,000 facilities report that a worst-case scenario would pose a risk to populations over 1,000 people and 90 plants could impact more than 1 million.

Neither of the Louisiana plants were first-time sites of tragedy.  Despite this, OSHA had not inspected these facilities in recent history:

OSHA issued a six-figure fine against the plant in 2000 after an explosion in an ammonia unit killed three workers and injured eight, according to WBRZ. The plant in Geismar hadn’t been inspected by OSHA in at least two decades, according to OSHA’s online database. The Geismar plant experienced another accident in 2009 when 60 pounds of flammable mixture was released, causing a fire that didn’t lead to injuries. Louisiana has experienced at least two other explosions in chemical facilities in the last two years.

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