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Chemical leak at Bayer facility in Texas

13 May 2013

On May 9 several hundred people were evacuated from a suburb of Lubbock, Texas after a tank at the Bayer Crop Science facility leaked a potentially dangerous chemical. The tank contained hydrogen chloride, which reacts with moisture in the atmosphere to form hydrochloric acid when released, the Lubbock fire department said.

No injuries were reported and emergency officials set up a 4-mile-wide exclusion zone in a sparsely populated area northeast of the city to allow a specialist team from Dallas to transfer the chemical from a cracked 1,400 kg tank into a new vessel.

The tank was on a trailer in a secure area of the plant when an alarm sounded on the night of May 8.

On May 10, Bayer Crop Science vice president Monty Christian told FOX 34 the leak was caused by a valve malfunction and the higher gas concentrations were picked up by a sensor which set off the alarm.

Christian said there are two sensors to detect hazardous chemicals at the plant. One is indoors where the cotton seed is processed and the other is outdoors next to the cylinders where the hydrogen chloride is kept. When the valve malfunctioned, the outside sensor sounded the alarm. All plant operators also wear a second sensor.

"When they're in here operating, this is our second back up system. So we've got the larger sensor system, then we've got hand-helds." Christian said. "The system worked like it should. And we had employees that then started the evacuation and started contacting local authorities."

He said although the leak never caused hazardous levels outside the plant fence, the call to evacuate the surrounding neighborhood was necessary.

An investigation into the leak by OSHA is currently underway.

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