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Chemical Fire Burns At Chlorine Plant Near Lake Charles In Aftermath Of Hurricane Laura

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Cajun Navy
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A video posted by the Cajun Navy on Facebook shows smoke rising from a fire in Westlake, Louisiana, in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Aug. 27, 2020.

A chemical plant in Westlake, La., that caught fire during Hurricane Laura is still burning Thursday evening.

The facility, BioLab Inc., makes chlorine for swimming pools. Officials are unsure exactly when the fire started, but Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) Press Secretary Greg Langley said his agency was informed of the first fire around 9 a.m. That fire was extinguished but another fire flared up. It's unclear when that happened.

Leer en español.

LDEQ began monitoring the air quality when they arrive at the scene, and the team’s initial readings did not detect any chlorine. During a 1 p.m. press conference, State Fire Marshall Butch Browning also said no chlorine was detected in the air.

"What they have found is no low-level detection of chlorine off-site, which meant where people walk and where people gather, which is a good thing," Browning said. "The cloud, the plume, as it goes in the air and moves out there is chlorine in that, obviously, but that those chemicals are falling in the lake, which is the right place for it because it dilutes the chlorine. So that, we don't believe, is endangering anyone."

Browning said he is unaware of anyone reporting symptoms of chlorine gas exposure, which affects the respiratory system.

The Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management issued a shelter-in-place advisory that now extends 1 mile around the site.

"Residents are advised to shelter in place until further notice and close your doors and windows. Follow the directions of local officials," Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted.

The Cajun Navy, a southern Louisiana volunteer group that responds to natural disasters, shared this video of smoke rising over the city around 9:40 a.m.

Louisiana State Police and the Lake Charles Fire Department also responded to the fire, along with Environmental Protection Agency personnel and monitoring aircraft.

The EPA sent an Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) aircraft from Dallas, Texas. ASPECT is  "the nation’s only airborne real-time chemical and radiological detection, infrared and photographic imagery platform," according to a statement from LDEQ

KIK Custom Products, the company that owns BioLab, sent a team to the scene and released a statement that said the facility followed shutdown protocols and was evacuated when Laura reached Category 4 strength Wednesday. All employees were confirmed to be safe.

"Our priority is the safety and well-being of the Lake Charles community of which we are a part," a KIK Products spokesperson wrote. "We are working with first responders, local authorities, and environmental agencies to contain and mitigate the impact of this incident as quickly as possible."

According to the Lousiana State Police, KIK Custom Products hired U.S. Fire Pump to respond with personnel from Houston and Baton Rouge, and Center for Toxicology & Environmental Health to conduct air quality monitoring.

Officials have been unable to provide a timeline for when the fire will be put out.

Ashley Dean is the digital news editor for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was the editor of Denverite, a digital news startup now under the Colorado Public Radio umbrella. Prior to that she was a copy editor and features writer at the Denver Post, and before that, a music reporter for the Colorado Daily. She graduated from Columbia University with a master's degree in journalism and from Northeastern University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.
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.
Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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