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Dow stabilizing Louisiana plant after explosion, but cause still unknown

Dow Chemical Company's manufacturing site in Plaquemine, Louisiana.
Dow Chemical Company
Dow Chemical Company's manufacturing site in Plaquemine, Louisiana.

Limited details have been released following a series of explosions and a fire at one of Louisiana’s largest petrochemical complexes on Friday. Dow Chemical Company has yet to provide an explanation as of Monday, upsetting environmental advocates, after the incident rocked homes in Iberville Parish and Baton Rouge.

Dow isn’t expected to provide details for at least one week, though state officials say it could take even longer for the public to receive more information about what caused the explosion.

At least six explosions occurred late Friday night at the sprawling Dow’s 883-acre complex that manufactures a variety of chemicals, sending a mushroom cloud into the air. The explosions and subsequent fire took place in the plant’s Glycol 2 unit – an area that manufactures ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen.

Environmental advocates criticized the company’s lack of transparency, saying it fell in line with “troubling” trends after chemical plant accidents.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade Executive Director Anne Rolfes noted that while Dow officials have stated the air surrounding the plant is safe, they aren’t monitoring the air around residents’ houses.

“The company failed to mention that it is not conducting immediate air monitoring in the neighborhoods nearby and is only monitoring for high levels of chemicals that might kill workers instantly,” Rolfes claimed.

This kind of monitoring would overlook pollution at levels that could have long-term health impacts, she said, calling the practice “manipulative.”

Dow representatives didn’t respond to WWNO’s and WRKF’s questions about how the air monitoring is being conducted and what chemicals the company is monitoring.

The company’s onsite firefighters spent more than a day battling the blaze before it was fully extinguished early Sunday morning. The incident prompted an 8-hour shelter-in-place order for those living within a half-mile of the plant. Residents were asked to close their windows and turn off their air conditioning despite the humid, summer weather.

On Monday, Dow U.S. Gulf Coast Public Affairs Manager Glynna Mayer said air monitoring by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Dow and a third-party monitoring service hadn’t detected any dangerous levels of pollution. The third-party service hasn’t been identified.

“Assessment of the impacted area continues. The emergency and technical teams remain diligent in monitoring air quality. The rest of the site remains operational,” Mayer said.

A unified command has been formed involving Dow and multiple state and federal agencies, including the Louisiana State Police and Department of Environmental Quality. Dow is leading the group’s communications.

Mary Fournier, another Dow spokeswoman, said emergency crews were still working at the site of the explosion on Monday to stabilize it.

“We are continuing to assess the incident and will have more information about the products involved, the impact on operations, and next steps when it is available,” Fournier said.

She added, “There has been no indication of community impact.”

Rolfes noted the lack of response from Louisiana’s top politicians despite the incident’s close proximity to the state’s capitol. Neither Gov. John Bel Edwards nor U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who live in the area, have addressed the explosion.

Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at

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