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Industrial Safety

Acetic acid accident at Texas plant kills 2 workers

LyondellBasell plant had just shut down acetyls unit for maintenance

by Cheryl Hogue
July 29, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 28


Photo shows a woman in a blue uniform standing in front of a chemical plant at night and speaking into microphones.
Credit: Associated Press
Laurie T. Christensen, fire marshal for Harris County, speaks to reporters after two workers were killed at a LyondellBasell facility in La Porte, Texas.

Two workers are dead and two remain hospitalized after a pipe with pressurized acetic acid burst July 27 at a LyondellBasell plant in La Porte, Texas.

First responders helped 31 surviving workers undergo decontamination, Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie L. Christensen told reporters shortly after the accident. LyondellBasell says 30 workers were transported to the hospital for medical evaluation. Of these, 28 had been treated and released as of late July 28.

Hours before the incident, workers shut down the acetyls unit at the plant for planned maintenance, LyondellBasell says in a statement. About 7:35 p.m., a cap burst on a pressurized line of acetic acid, forming a chemical vapor cloud, a spokesperson for the Harris County Pollution Control Services Department tells C&EN. The vaporized acetic acid caused most of the injuries, the spokesperson says.

The two workers killed at the scene were contract employees, LyondellBasell says. They are Dustin Don Day, 36, and Shawn Andrew Kuhleman, 32, according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

The pressurized line spewed a mixture of acetic acid, catalyst, hydrogen iodide, and methyl iodide, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) says in an emailed statement. LyondellBasell says the accident released about 45,000 kg of this mixture, which consisted primarily of acetic acid.

Air monitoring during and after the accident “did not indicate actionable levels” for nearby residents, LyondellBasell says.

A response team isolated and contained the leak, the company says. Most of the released material was contained, the TCEQ says, and the facility’s on-site wastewater treatment plant is handling its disposal.

As of C&EN’s July 29 deadline, the company continues to clean up and decontaminate the site, it says.

LyondellBasell says the cause of the accident remains unknown. The US Chemical Safety Board has deployed a team to the site to investigate the incident.

The company says it is cooperating with government authorities and industry partners that are investigating the accident “to better understand the details surrounding this event with the aim of preventing a similar incident from occurring.”


This story was revised on July 29, 2021, to identify the workers killed at the scene of the incident.



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