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Fatal explosion hits BASF’s Ludwigshafen site

Two workers dead, one missing; 20 plants shut down or partially running

by Alex Scott
October 18, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 42

Credit: AFP
A fire on Oct. 17 killed at least two at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site.
Photo of a fire at BASF’s site in Ludwigshafen, Germany.
Credit: AFP
A fire on Oct. 17 killed at least two at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site.

A huge explosion and fire at BASF’s Ludwigshafen, Germany, site—one of the world’s largest chemical complexes—killed three people. Eight other BASF staffers were seriously injured and 17 slightly injured from the fire, which broke out on the morning of Monday, Oct. 17.

The explosion and resultant fire occurred among pipelines that connect the firm’s harbor on the Rhine River to the Ludwigshafen complex. Maintenance work was being carried out on the pipelines, some of which carry ethylene and propylene, at the time of the explosion. The fire burned for more than 10 hours before it was extinguished.

BASF shut down the site’s two steam crackers and closed or reduced output from a further 18 or so other plants out of the roughly 110 production facilities at the site. BASF uses ethylene and propylene at the site to make a broad range of products including insulating materials, solvents, and paints.

“We are deeply saddened that employees have died and several have been injured. Our deepest sympathy lies with the affected people and their families,” site manager Uwe Liebelt said.

Another explosion occurred at BASF’s Lampertheim, Germany, plastics additives plant on the same morning. Four workers were injured. BASF says the cause of that incident is not yet known. Production at the plant has been suspended.

Process safety incidents at BASF occurred at a rate of 2.1 and 2.2 per million working hours in 2014 and 2015, respectively, according to the firm. Earlier this year there were deaths involving contractors at BASF sites in Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan. Last year a BASF employee was killed in a fatal accident.

CEFIC, a European chemicals trade association, has pledged its full support to BASF. “Given the sheer scale of operations and people involved at such plants, unfortunately incidents can still happen from time to time,” Director General Marco Mensink says.

UPDATE: This story was updated on Oct. 24, 2016, to include additional information.



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