Plant Explosion Sparks Safety Concerns

Posted at: 04/18/2013 10:42 PM
Updated at: 04/18/2013 10:46 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- The terrible events in West, Texas on Wednesday came as a wake up call for many industrial facilities across the country who deal with their own potentially dangerous materials every day.

It was only a few years ago, in October of 2007, that a chemical plant near Des Moines erupted in flame, showing just how volatile such facilities can be.

“As with any chemical processing, with any sort of industrial site, there are some potential hazards," said Kelly Hansen, general manager of POET Biorefining in Hanlontown, Iowa.

POET’s Hanlontown facility produces roughly 56 million gallons of ethanol every year, but officials said that such facilities are designed with safety as a primary focus, and employ numerous safety features to prevent any potentially dangerous situations.

“There are mechanical safeties, there are automation systems in place that would do everything possible to protect the facility and the people that work in the facility,” Hansen said.

Officials also said that for plants like POET, it's important to maintain strong relationships with local emergency services.

The Hanlontown Fire Department tours the plant regularly and POET officials said they make sure firefighters are aware of any changes to the facility.

“We regularly have drills here on site for any potential scenarios,” Hansen said. “We find that it's very important that we all stay ready."

And while it may take a long time before investigators learn the exact cause of the incident in Texas, for similar facilities, preventing such disasters remains a daily activity.

“We recognize that safety is absolutely the most important part of operating the facility," Hansen said.

It’s worth noting that disasters like the one in Texas are rare. The last serious incident at POET in Hanlontown happened nearly 5 years ago.