NEW ORLEANS — With sunrise, the damage from Hurricane Laura in Southwest Louisiana was easy to see, and so was the smoke that filled the sky.
“We know it’s a serious situation,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Video shows black smoke rising from Biolab, a chlorine manufacturing plant in Westlake, damaged by the storm.
“As this type of chlorine began to decompose, it generates heat, and it began to burn, releasing chlorine gas into the atmosphere,” said Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Kevin Reeves.
A tweet from the governor advised folks in the Westlake, Moss Bluff and Sulphur areas to shut doors and windows, turn off air conditioning, and shelter in place.
“Chlorine is very, very toxic,” said Rob Verchick, an environmental law professor at Loyola University.
Verchick said it’s a scary situation that could be devastating.
“If a plume of chlorine gas is going into the air and people are exposed to it, that’s extremely serious,” said Verchick. “People could die.”
Luckily, the wind helped get rid of dangerous fumes, emergency responders said.
“The plume — as it goes into the air and it moves out — there is chlorine in that obviously, but those chemicals are falling into the lake which is the right place for it because it dilutes the chlorine,” said state Fire Marshal Butch Browning Jr.
Verchick said he’s not surprised to see scenes like this play out during storms.
“Accidents like this happen every time we have a storm, and the unfortunate thing is this is a trend that’s just going to continue to get larger and larger with climate change and more intense storms,” said Verchick.
With those changes, Verchick said he doesn’t believe chemical and oil and gas industries are prepared.
“Companies compete against one another. They want to be safe of course, but it costs money to think about long term risks,” said Verchick.
Risks that could put people in harm’s way, who are already dealing with devastation.
A statement from the company said the fire was a result of Hurricane Laura and quote “the facility had been evacuated when the hurricane was upgraded to category four… all employees are confirmed to be safe.” -spokesperson KIK Custom Products
State police is working with DEQ to monitor air quality.