On Thursday afternoon in La Porte, TX, a DuPont chemical plant leaked a large cloud of gas from a unit producing sulphuric acid, CNN reports. Reports state that for approximately ten minutes a gas called oleum, a fine mist of sulphuric acid, leaked from one of the plant’s stacks blanketing the area including a nearby highway. A shelter-in-place order was enacted for all nearby resident and district schools while Highway 225 was shut down. The plant’s safety supervisor, Ken Martin, had this suggestion for affected citizens: “The thing I would recommend people do if you thought you were exposed to a significant amount of it or your vehicle, something like that, wash it off this afternoon.” So far, no one has been reported injured.
This article piqued my interest on two levels. First, I thought this incident is a nice example of why oil drilling and other ecologically unsound activities must be kept out of protected wildlife areas. There is no such thing as a fool-proof system to keep environmentally destructive activities safe, there will always be entropy in the system waiting to bugger everything up. If we don’t have the skills or the technology to keep our cities and residential areas free from contamination, how can we expect to preserve natural spaces? Another striking aspect of this article is the discrepancy between the advice given by DuPont’s safety supervisor and the article’s writer. Ken Martin suggests that residents who have been exposed to the toxic gas will be alright as long as they take a shower sometime later that day and wash their cars.
On the other side of the spectrum, the article warns the reader that, “Oleum causes respiratory problems if inhaled. Symptoms include breathing problems and a burning sensation in the throat. Anyone experiencing symptoms is encouraged to see a doctor,” and then goes on to explain how to properly secure one’s house with tape and plastic sheeting. Who is to be believed here? Is the corporation downplaying the possible dangers of this horrific accident to maintain their image? Or is the media trying to be sensational by fear mongering? I would wager both.