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Following 2012 fire, La., residents sue plant owner

Posted on by SST

Residents of Slaughter, Louisiana filed a lawsuit in September against the owner of a facility that burned down in Nov., 2012.

The Monolyte Labs facility suffered an explosion in late 2012 that burned the facility to the ground. Residents say the chemical plant released toxins that have yet to be cleaned up. Pointing to poor air quality and resultant health issues, residents are suing the company for failing to decontaminate the area, WBRZ reports.

"When it's real hot, you can smell. It's still there," says Laura Gasquet.

Nearly a year after the explosion, residents claim that chemicals can still be sensed.

"We have enough health issues going on; my sister can't breathe with her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Bronchitis," said resident Louise Johnston.

2012 fire
In the early morning of November 19, a Slaughter police officer noticed fire and smoke at the Monolyte facility from a distance, the Advocate reports. Upon closer inspection, he could see glowing metal inside the building. Firefighters responded, discovering a blaze inside the vacant facility. In order to prevent bottles of propane from catching, they used a constant spray on the building. Slaughter Police Chief Walter Smith explained that while they were able to keep the fire from spreading, the warehouse was destroyed.

"It was a pretty good little blaze there for awhile," Smith said. "It's a complete loss."

By Monday afternoon officials had a new concern. The gallons of the water used on the building may have washed chemicals from the plant into the ground.

The plant's product was a water additive used at oil field sites and wastewater treatment facilities. Peter Ricca, emergency response manager with the state Department of Environmental Quality, said that the finished product was in the facility at the time of the fire.

"Since it has escaped from containment, it is in the ditches so that does have an effect on the environment," Ricca said. Contaminants in water can potentially spread to drinking water via aquifers below the ground.

Although the company immediately hired an environmental contractor to handle the cleanup, residents complained of air and water quality at a town hall meeting a week later, Fox 44 said in a Nov.2012 report.

"All I know is it didn't smell good, chemicals; smelled like chemicals," said Edith Wallace. "We walked out here and looked up and the smoke was way up there and just floating."

Some residents posed questions to the company. "What kind of chemicals do they use there," said Delores Dove. "Because there had been times where there were clouds that we had to drive through at night and horrific smells."

Although Monolyte officials assured residents that toxic gas detector and water tests reveal no safety hazard, Dove was disappointed by vague answers. Now, over a year later, residents feel they've continually been harmed.

A difficult clean-up process
In late September, 11 residents filed suit against owners. The Department of Environmental Quality says that the company has yet to dispose of its hazardous materials, reports WBRZ. Tom Killeen, DEQ Environmental Compliance Administrator, says the company has had a tough time cleaning up.

"They've tried five to six different methods, three to four different companies, and it's just a very difficult material to process," says Kileen.

The DEQ is required to oversee progress with the cleanup. At around the same time the suit was filed, the DEQ gave the plant a 30 day limit to finish the job. Otherwise, there could be strict penalties.

If Monolyte follows through, it is unclear whether or not the lawsuit will continue.

Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.

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