On Wednesday, a chemical leak on the Dow Chemical Co. Bayport plant brought about La Porte metropolis officers to evacuate the encircling space, when an over-pressurized tank vented a dangerous chemical known as hydroxyethyl acrylate, or HEA, into the air.
To be taught extra in regards to the chemical concerned within the leak — and chemical compounds in surrounding vans and services — Houston Public Media vitality reporter Kyra Buckley spoke with College of Houston chemical engineering professor and Chief Vitality Officer Ramanan Krishnamoorti.
This interview has been edited for size and readability.
What are you able to inform me about hydroxyethyl acrylate, or HEA? What is the concern locally?
So primarily, in massive quantities, it may influence folks’s respiratory, it may irritate eyes. However long run challenges — similar to carcinogenic or toxicological impacts — are a lot decrease than different sorts of natural molecules. Fortuitously, it’s one thing that’s bought a excessive diploma of attraction for water, so it tends to be washed away comparatively simply in comparison with many different natural compounds.
We perceive that they discovered the leak in a tanker truck, and so they’re monitoring to see if the temperature goes up or down in that truck. Why does that matter?
When this materials begins to hitch collectively, these reactions are extremely exothermic — they launch a whole lot of warmth. If that course of begins and progresses, then you possibly can have an explosive response, and this factor can react violently and explode.
The truck that the leak got here from is parked subsequent to 2 different tanker vans. One has the identical chemical in it. The opposite one, we perceive, has a chemical known as methyl methacrylate. Are you able to inform me extra about that and if there are considerations about that chemical compound?
It’s a compound that’s utilized in Plexiglas. It tends to be, once more, one thing that may irritate folks’s eyes, it may have an effect on your your air passages — however clearly not any important poisonous, toxicological or carcinogenic impacts. Like HEA, methyl methacrylate has the identical tendency of making an explosive response. If it will get extraordinarily sizzling throughout the tanker — greater than 200 levels — then it could possibly be a problem. However underneath most traditional circumstances, it’s unlikely to be a difficulty. They need to try to discover methods to maneuver the opposite vans out of the way in which, as a result of when you get an explosion, issues are uncontrolled and also you don’t know the place you’re going to have the following problem.
What questions would you could have when you bought to take a seat down with a Dow official?
To try to determine what the foundation explanation for this accident was. What steps can you set in place that might stop such leaks from occurring sooner or later? And the way do you handle inventories? Is it a good suggestion to have these a number of vans of the identical compound in shut proximity?
Is such a chemical leak widespread?
The protection file of the business — and truly broadly throughout the nation — the protection of chemical compounds being transported has improved. However I feel again 20-to-30 years in the past, this stuff used to occur much more steadily, so definitely issues have improved. However we’ve bought to search out higher methods to handle this, as a result of finally, each time considered one of these leaks occur, there’s much less and fewer religion within the business having the ability to handle what they’re doing, and handle the challenges of transferring very hazardous supplies across the nation.
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