Residents demand answers: Why did sirens take nearly 20 minutes to sound after Dow explosion?

PLAQUEMINE — It’s a question many residents of Iberville Parish want answered: Why did it take nearly 20 minutes to activate the sirens after the Dow explosion on Friday night?

At around 9:17 p.m., a series of explosions occurred at Dow Chemical’s Glycol 2 Unit in Plaquemine. The loud explosion, which caused a “ring of fire” in the air, shook neighboring homes and was heard as far as East Baton Rouge Parish. Possibly three more explosions followed.

Fortunately, no injuries were reported, and all employees were accounted for, according to Dow officials. While no evacuations were ordered, residents living within a half-mile of the plant were advised to shelter in place as a precautionary measure.

Despite unanswered calls and texts to Dow Chemical officials since the explosion, Unfiltered with Kiran managed to contact parish officials who could address residents’ questions about the timeline.

“We try to do these sirens as fast as we can”

The sirens and phone notifications in response to such incidents are the responsibility of Iberville Parish’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, not Dow Chemical. Regarding the Dow explosions on July 14, OEP Director Clint Moore says the parish issued the notifications within 14-15 minutes of receiving the information.

“This could have been a catastrophic event,” Moore said. “This was a serious explosion at a very large chemical facility, and we try to do these things as fast as we can. But we have to be accurate. That’s what I really want the public to understand, that in these very chaotic situations, we try to notify the public as fast as we can but as accurately as we can and only to the potentially affected areas.”

Moore said that anytime there’s an incident in the parish, there’s a lot of uncertainty. “There’s a lot of chaos at first and uncertainty of what’s actually happening. From our office, there’s not just a big red magic button we push that sounds off. We need to know what’s happening, where it’s happening and what portion of our parish will be affected the most.”

In the Dow explosion incident, Moore said they knew within the first 10 minutes that something bad was happening at Dow, but they needed more details.

It takes a little bit of time to get first responders to the scene and learn what’s happening. It also can take a few minutes before Dow Chemical officials report what’s happening to Iberville Parish officials.

In this specific incident, Iberville Parish President Mitch Ourso said Dow kept him and other Iberville Parish officials in the know.

“I could not be prouder of how this played out from our end to even Dow keeping us updated,” said Ourso. “John Marque is a 42 year retiree from the chemical industry. He stayed in the emergency operation center the entire night informing me and Clint. Clint was then informing the public of what was going on via notifications as fast as he was getting them.” These two gentlemen here and all the crew at emergency preparedness, I’m extremely proud of them. Their training came into place. Clint ran out of his house as fast as he could and was at work to alert the public and John left the emergency operation center around 6:30am. The biggest blessing that came out of this was that no one got hurt or was even injured from the reports that were given to us.”

Ourso acknowledged the public’s concerns about the timeline but stated that they needed to fully understand the situation.

“We care deeply about our residents — who are literally our neighbors. What people need to realize is that we must gather all the necessary information before sharing it with the public.”

Moore clarified that the Iberville OEP doesn’t immediately activate the sirens. The OEP director added that during emergencies of this magnitude, they must first ascertain the nature and location of the incident before determining the appropriate method of communication.

“We have sirens throughout the entire parish, so we wouldn’t want to sound sirens in the northern part of the parish like Maringouin or Grosse Tete because this does not impact them. Same goes for the southern end of the parish like Bayou Sorrel and White Castle,” said Moore.

“We have sirens throughout the entire parish, so we wouldn’t want to sound sirens in the northern part of the parish like Maringouin or Grosse Tete because this does not impact them. Same goes for the southern end of the parish like Bayou Sorrel and White Castle,” said Moore. “Once we had enough information from Dow, we activated our emergency process. The process started approximately 14-15 minutes after our initial notification from Dow at 9:20 p.m. The siren activation occurred between 9:34-9:35 p.m. In our office, we have a computer system dedicated to alerts. We have to build the notification, select the area we want to alert, and input a message. Once we hit ‘activate,’ it activates our system, starting with the sirens and then the telephone notifications.”

Moore advised individuals living within the half-mile radius who didn’t receive any alerts to sign up for the notifications, but emphasized that their system is an “opt-in system” only.

Sign up for Iberville Parish alerts.

Second explosion in same unit since 2019

According to Iberville officials, the Glycol 2 Unit at Dow Chemical stores ethylene oxide, a flammable and explosive chemical.

In 2019, OSHA conducted a partial safety inspection of Dow Chemical in Plaquemine based on a referral. The case is now closed. During the inspection, OSHA identified eight issues that resulted in “serious” level citations. The severity of these citations ranged from level 8 to 10, which is based on severity of the hazard and the probability that an injury or illness would result from the hazard.

The initial penalty amount was $53,976 but was reduced to $33,735. Four of the issues were resolved and the citations were removed. Approximately eight employees were exposed to these hazardous conditions.

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