Massive Chemical Fire Breaks Out Amid Hurricane Laura. It Could Burn 'For Days'

The chemical fire happened at a Biolabs facility near Lake Charles.
August 27, 2020, 8:59pm
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Image: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A chemical fire broke out at a cleaning products manufacturer in Westlake, Louisiana following the landfall of Hurricane Laura, according to a local spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency. Large plumes of black smoke from the plant could be seen in tweets Thursday morning; an expert told Motherboard that the fire could burn "for days."

The Governor of Louisiana advised all citizens to turn off their air conditioners and to shelter in place to protect themselves from the smoke. It is unclear when the fire, which started early Thursday, will die down. 

“The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality notified EPA of a fire at the Biolabs facility in Westlake, La. EPA is working with the lead responding agency, the Louisiana State Police," a spokesperson for the Region 6 EPA told Motherboard. "The facility manufactures pool chemicals, including chlorine, and stores them within the building. Local authorities have issued a shelter-in-place order."

Benjamin Strick, an open source investigator for the BBC and contributor at BellingCat, confirmed the location of the fire at the Biolab plant. 

According to Lafayette Daily Advertiser, the fire was caused by a chlorine leak at the BioLab plant, which is owned by KIK Custom Products according to their website. KIK manufactures home, auto and pool cleaning products such as Comet, Clorox Pool, and Prestone, according to its website. BioLab's website currently redirects to KIK's website; when called by Motherboard, no one answered the phone at the BioLab plant. Motherboard was unable to reach a spokesperson at its headquarters, but the company told the Advertiser that it is "deploying a specialized team to the site, and we are working with first responders, local authorities, and environmental agencies to contain and mitigate the impact of this incident as quickly as possible."

Slawomir Lomnicki, a chemist and associate professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, told Motherboard that this particular area of Lake Charles is an industrial corridor where a lot of chemicals are produced. 

As for how long the fire will last, Lomnicki said that it depends on the amount of material, that it could be over in a matter of hours but also longer. 

“Based on the plumes that we see, it could be days,” said Lomnicki. Lomnicki also said that this disaster has the potential to be “like Bhopal”, referencing the 1984 gas leak tragedy in India which injured 500,000 people and killed anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 people according to a 2005 Environmental Health article. There is currently no indication this will be that deadly, but the fire appears to be massive, Lomnicki said.

The EPA said it has deployed a plane to monitor air quality in the area.