On Aug. 27, 2020, Hurricane Laura made landfall, and rainwater from the storm came in contact with trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA) inside the Bio-Lab Lake Charles facility, initiating a chemical reaction that caused a fire and sent a large plume of hazardous gases into the air, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) final investigation report.
CSB concluded, among its final report findings, that Bio-Lab didn’t learn the importance of preparing for extreme weather after a hurricane in 2017 disabled the refrigeration system at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, causing a fire and explosion. Bio-Lab did not implement industry guidance for extreme weather preparation that was updated and published after the Arkema incident, according to CSB. Other key findings by the agency included:
- Bio-Lab voluntarily implemented some elements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) process safety management (PSM) standard standard and conducted a 2010 process hazard analysis (PHA) but did not implement a PHA recommendation to determine whether buildings at the facility, including its roofs, could withstand damage from hurricane-strength winds.
- Bio-Lab experienced an approximately five-and-a-half-hour delay in responding to the event, which likely increased the severity of the event.
- The Lake Charles plant didn’t 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.
- TCCA is not covered by OSHA’s PSM standard or the Environmental Protection Agency’s 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.
The CSB is issuing several recommendations to Bio-Lab Lake Charles, including constructing new buildings -- and maintaining existing buildings and structures -- to withstand hurricane winds and flooding; implementing safeguards and processes to ensure that hazardous chemicals are not released during extreme weather events; improving its PHA action item management system; performing PHAs on all buildings and units processing or storing TCCA; and improving its emergency response capabilities.
The CSB is also reiterating two recommendations related to reactive chemicals that it previously has made to OSHA and EPA. The CSB is calling on OSHA to amend its PSM regulation to achieve more comprehensive control of reactive hazards, such as TCCA, that could have catastrophic consequences and is calling on EPA to revise its Accidental Release Prevention Requirements to cover additional reactive hazards that have the potential to seriously impact the public.
Additionally, the CSB is recommending that Louisiana officials require chemical facility operators to evaluate the hazards from hurricanes and accompanying wind, rainwater, floodwater or storm surge forces and implement safeguards against those hazards. The CSB also is urging EPA to implement recommendations made by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to address risks to chemical facilities presented by natural hazards and climate change.
“The CSB’s recommendations should serve as a road map for companies, regulators, and industry,” says CSB board member Catherine Sandoval. “The CSB has seen these types of events before, and companies must be prepared for the hazards that extreme weather can present at their facilities utilizing industry resources. Had Bio-Lab followed the available guidance, the incident could have been prevented.”