Safety board: Several issues contributed to massive fire at BioLab

Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 6:45 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2023 at 7:39 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - The U.S. Chemical Safety Board found five safety issues that contributed to the massive fire at BioLab during Hurricane Laura in 2020.

The Safety Board released its final investigative report Monday into the fire and toxic gas release on Aug. 27, 2020.

The fire started when portions of a roof were torn off a building, allowing rainwater to come into contact with trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA), initiating a chemical reaction and subsequent decomposition, according to the Safety Board.

The Safety Board’s report said when TCCA is put in large bodies of water such as a pool, it breaks down slowly, releasing chlorine in the water.

“However, when TCCA comes into contact with small amounts of water and does not dissolve, it can undergo a chemical reaction that generates heat, causing the decomposition of TCCA, which produces toxic chlorine gas.”

BioLab had transported 825,000 pounds of TCCA off-site prior to the hurricane, but two additional trucks never arrived and one million pounds of TCCA were left on site.

Employees raised the remaining TCCA above ground level by placing it on triple-stacked pallets before all employees evacuated the facility at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 26, 2020.

The fire and plume of toxic chlorine gas began around 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 27.

A second fire began in another part of the plant around 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 27.

The incident was brought under control around 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 28.

Here are the five safety issues the Safety Board found:

  1. Extreme Weather Preparation: Bio-Lab did not learn the importance of preparing for extreme weather after the 2017 Arkema incident in Crosby, TX, which also occurred following a Category 4 hurricane. Bio-Lab did not implement industry guidance for extreme weather preparation that was updated and published after the Arkema incident.
  2. Process Hazard Analyses Implementation: TCCA is not covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. Bio-Lab voluntarily implemented some elements of the PSM standard and even conducted a 2010 Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) but did not implement a PHA recommendation to determine whether buildings at the facility (including their roofs) could withstand damage from hurricane-strength winds.
  3. Emergency Preparedness and Response: Bio-Lab experienced an approximately five-and-a-half-hour delay in responding to the event, which likely increased the severity of the event.
  4. Adherence to Applicable Hazardous Materials Codes: The Lake Charles plant did not adhere to the existing National Fire Protection Association’s codes for high-hazard industry occupancies, which include safety precautions such as automatic extinguishing systems or other protections to minimize danger to occupants before they have time to evacuate.
  5. Regulatory Coverage of Reactive Chemical Hazards: TCCA is not covered by OSHA’s PSM standard or the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program Rule. Consequently, the facility was not required to implement baseline process safety management elements of its TCCA-related operations under these regulations.

A BioLab spokesperson provided the following statement:

“BioLab is deeply committed to the safety and well-being of the Lake Charles community and has already implemented numerous enhanced safety features at our newly reconstructed state-of-the-art facility, based on our own internal investigation. BioLab has worked collaboratively with the CSB throughout its investigation and has already considered its recommendations in the design and constructions of its new plant. We will closely study the report for any other potential improvements. We look forward to advancing our more than 40-year history in Lake Charles for years to come.”

Read the full report HERE.