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Chemical Company To Spend $170M Rebuilding Westlake Chlorine Plant Damaged By Hurricane Laura

Hurricane Laura tore the roof and walls off of the BioLab plant, causing a chemical fire.
Vincent, Vonzella
Hurricane Laura tore the roof and walls off of the BioLab plant, causing a chemical fire.

The company responsible for a giant chemical fire near Lake Charles last August is rebuilding its plant.

The fire at BioLab’s Westlake plant burned for three days after Hurricane Laura hit, sending dark plumes of chlorine gas into the air and causing the state to call for mandatory evacuations.

Exposure to chlorine gas can cause bronchitis, asthma, and swelling of the lungs. Environmental Protection Agency sensors reported that the pollution in nearby neighborhoods was enough to cause irritation and make breathing difficult.

The Chemical Safety Board investigated the incident but has not yet released its report.

A spokesman with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) said the hurricane caused the fire when it ripped apart a building, water came in, chlorine was mixed with the water and started on fire.

LDEQ has not fined the company, but continues to investigate the incident. In particular, a spokesman said they are looking at whether firefighting efforts spread chlorine into the surrounding environment.

The company that owns the plant, KIK Consumer Products, will spend $170 million to build a new chlorine products facility. On Wednesday Gov. John Bel Edwards visited the plant for the groundbreaking.

KIK Consumer Products makes antifreeze, pool chlorine, and cleaning products like Clorox. “We welcome BioLab’s reinvestment in Westlake,” Edwards said in a press release. “We are grateful for their support in helping this region come back stronger.”

The facility will manufacture trichloroisocyanuric acid, a toxic substance used as an industrial disinfectant and bleaching agent; and disodium isocyanurate, used as swimming pool sanitizer.

The company has received industrial tax credits for the rebuilding project.

According to the Louisiana Economic Development the project will create 82 direct jobs.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and local listeners.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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