Mississippi plants show their grit

June 28, 2006
As the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, life remains far from normal in many areas of the Gulf Coast. Amid the destruction, though, some hard-hit chemical plants provide proof of what can be accomplished.

As the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, life remains far from normal in many areas of the Gulf Coast. Amid the destruction, though, some hard-hit chemical plants provide proof of what can be accomplished, as attendees at June’s Honeywell Users Group Americas Symposium in Phoenix heard.

Mississippi Polymer Technology in Bay St. Louis, Miss., faced two crucial challenges. Winds of up to 160 mph and a 15- to 20-ft. storm surge had caused extensive damage, which, in turn, put a tentative agreement for the sale of the company to Solvay Advanced Polymers up in the air, explains Joe Gibbons, the company’s engineering and maintenance manager.

Ten days after the storm, key staff and consultants were able to inspect the site, which manufactures proprietary self-reinforced polymers. They found that much equipment had been submerged in flood waters and a residue of slimy smelly mud was everywhere in the plant. “Minnows were swimming in the containment ponds,” notes Gibbons.

The building first had to be gutted and pasteurized. Saltwater corrosion had done a number on cabling, motors, and electronics. All ac motors were replaced, but a large dc motor was repairable. The plant’s four Experion PKS operator stations had survived but their LCDs were casualties, one server had been submerged, as well as much instrumentation and wiring. Wicking of salt water had caused corrosion in wiring well above the flood level. In addition, the secure offsite storage site used for backups didn’t survive Katrina and much of the documentation at the plant had been destroyed.

Nevertheless, thanks to perseverance and hard work, the plant was able to run its reactor on November 1, although the building still didn’t have walls. Full production campaigns resumed just after Thanksgiving. And Solvay bought the company in February.

Today, the new DCS server isn’t installed on the floor as before, but 3½ ft above ground level, says Gibbons, adding that electronic copies of documentation are now being created for storage at headquarters.

DuPont’s DeLisle, Miss., titanium dioxide plant took a direct hit from Katrina for almost 20 hours. The process and environmental systems remained intact, though. “DuPont construction standards helped avoid substantial structural damage,” notes Guy Wiles, an electrical engineer at the site. However, virtually every electronic system had to be replaced or rebuilt. “The majority of control rooms were destroyed and not reusable,” he says. Further complicating the situation, most wiring tags fell off because of saltwater corrosion.

The control system rebuild project involved 85 controller cabinets, 34 redundant processors, 20,000 hard I/O points, 100,000 wiring terminations, and 42 custom marshalling cabinets. If the size of the project wasn’t daunting enough, the DuPont work required special components instead of standard off-the-shelf units, notes Bob Eubank, who headed Honeywell efforts onsite. “DuPont uses special 120-V DI boards with long-distance digital FTA and screw connectors, and this accounted for more than 30% of the order.” Sourcing the special components was a worldwide effort.

Getting the powerhouse up and running was DuPont’s first target, and that was achieved on November 16, with the environmental systems online a week later. All the control rooms were ready ahead of schedule, and the entire DCS project was completed 11 days early, in 11 weeks, says Eubank.

It’s undoubtedly hard for many of us to comprehend what these plants went though. It’s certainly not hard, though, to appreciate and applaud their accomplishments.


Mark Rosenzweig
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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