CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - In light of the pressure decompression that occurred at Westlake Polymers last night, Joe Andrepont, spokesman for Westlake Chemical, discussed what exactly happened at the plant.
In the video, Andrepont explains what happened with the "controlled decomp."
"What happens is, for whatever reason, you have what we call a hot spot that develops inside the reactor," said Andrepont. "The hotspot continues to expand with temperature and pressure as it begins to rise. Then, as the pressure exceeds whatever that rupture disc is set at, the disc ruptures, hence the controlled pressure release."
Andrepont explained that after the release, gas will begin to flow from the reactor into the vent stack. The gas continues flowing out of the reactor and into the atmosphere.
"At some point, particularly on a cool night like we have tonight, static electricity is usually the ignition source," Andrepont said. "So, as this gas is coming out to the stack into the atmosphere, it ignites."
This ignition is what the fireball was that people may have seen and reported, according to Andrepont.
He explained that "once the content is out, then you have the loud boom of the gas igniting."
This marks the end of the reaction and fireball.
Andrepont said it was the first decomp Westlake Chemical experienced in a number of years.
"We'll go back and our investigation team will look at the cause," said Andrepont. "These things happen from time to time."
Many residents expressed that they would have liked to be warned that the decompression would happen since it caused such a loud boom, but Andrepont said that it's not that simple.
"There's no way that you can warn, something like this happens so quick," Andrepont said. "From the time you have a normal reaction to the time the fireball ignites, you're talking approximately five to seven seconds. The board operator can tell that the pressure is building but there's nothing that you can do to correct it."
Andrepont stressed that although it alarmed people, it is simply a safety device.
"The most important thing was there were no injuries and all of our employees have been accounted for," Andrepont said.
The plant will now install a new pressure disc into the reactor and begin the process of starting the unit back up.