Mexican Chemical Plant Blast Claims 24
An explosion at a petrochemical plant on the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico has reportedly claimed the lives of 24 workers, injured more than 100 others, and released a cloud of toxins into the air.
The blast occurred at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday (April 20) at the Clorados (chlorinate) 3 plant of Petroquimica Mexicana de Vinilo in the industrial port city of Coatzacoalcos, the Associated Press reported.
The plant produces vinyl chloride, a colorless, flammable gas primarily used to manufacture polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and resins used in products like pipes, wire and cable coatings, and packaging materials, as well as some coatings and inks.
An official cause of the explosion has not yet been identified.
Impact of Explosion, Toxins
Reporting immediately after the incident, state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) indicated that three people had died in the explosion; at that time, 136 were said to be injured, with 88 remaining hospitalized that night.
Pemex's petrochemical unit and majority owner Mexichem operates the plant as a joint venture with Pemex. Pemex operates the larger petrochemical complex where the plant was located, Reuters reported.
Sources said the blast was felt as far as six miles away, and 2,000 residents in the area were evacuated as a precaution. The fire was said to be under control that night.
"The cloud that emanated from the PMV plant in Coatzacoalcos is dissipating rapidly, which means it is losing its toxic effects," the company said via Twitter.
On Wednesday, the Veracruz state Health Department issued a statement indicating that two patients were in grave condition after suffering burns to their air passages from toxic gases. Others had been treated for injuries including minor burns, contusions and broken bones.
By the next day (April 21), Pemex reported the death toll had risen to 24. Nineteen remained hospitalized, with 13 in serious condition. Eighteen workers were originally listed as missing, but that number later dropped to eight.
Looking for Answers
As of Thursday night, Pemex indicated it was steadily gaining access to more parts of the badly damaged plant while keeping the safety of the inspectors on site a priority.
Early speculation was that the blast was caused by a leak, although the origin had not yet been identified, according to Pemex’s director, Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya.
"We know there was a leak, what we don't know is why, but everything points to an accident," Gonzalez Anaya said in a Reuters report.
During a press conference, Gonzalez Anaya rejected theories that the blast was related to economic problems experienced by his company, which is feeling the effects of low crude prices.
Gonzalez Anaya also indicated remediation of the site could take up to a year.
With one person having died in a fire at this location in February, two killed and eight injured an offshore platform fire in the Gulf, and a history of accidents at other Pemex sites, families of the victims appear wary of any potential smokescreen tactics.
"To the president, to the state governor, to the head of Pemex, we will not allow any more cover-ups like have happened with previous accidents," said Antonio Mariche, who was on site with one missing worker’s family.
"They have covered up the numbers (in the past); there have been people who disappeared and regrettably never appeared,” he said. “We will go to the last consequences to make sure this doesn't keep happening."
Mexichem's chairman Juan Pablo del Valle, however, stated on Twitter: "This is neither the time for excuses nor finding those to blame. It is the time to tend to the injured, be accountable and support all those affected."