Rupture at Donaldsonville plant kills one, injures seven

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD  -- Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley, middle, wipes his face Friday as Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of State Police, left, speaks at a news conference after a deadly explosion at CF Industries in Donaldsonville.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley, middle, wipes his face Friday as Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of State Police, left, speaks at a news conference after a deadly explosion at CF Industries in Donaldsonville.

One person was killed instantly and seven others were injured late Friday at an Ascension Parish chemical plant when a rupture occurred as nitrogen was being off loaded from a tank truck, authorities said.

State Police said the person killed was Ronald “Rocky” Morris Jr., 55, of Belle Rose in Assumption Parish, a 34-year veteran at the plant. In addition, the following CF Industries employees were injured: Courtney Julien, Melvin Singleton, Jeramy Worsham and Kade Yarbrough. Three contractor employees were also injured, according to a news release from CF Industries.

State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said an 18-wheeler was off loading product at CF Industries when the accident occurred at 6:15 p.m. Friday — a day after two people were killed and dozens of others were injured in a plant explosion in Geismar.

“It’s been a trying time in Ascension Parish,” said Sheriff Jeff Wiley.

Although authorities initially described the accident as an explosion, Lou Frey, Vice President and General Manager of the Donaldsonville Nitrogen Complex said at a news conference late Friday that it involved a rupture in a small vessel or “header” as nitrogen was being off loaded from a tank truck.

“There was no explosion and no fire,” Frey said. “Everything is secure right now. There was never any public threat.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected and their families,” said Frey. “Our employees are our greatest asset, and their safety is our highest priority.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Frey said it appears the rupture was caused by over pressurization, not unlike an overinflated tire popping.

Edmonson said later that it was caused by a “catastrophic failure” of a manifold that is used to distribute gas to the facility. He said authorities are investigating whether it was a result of over pressurization or some other cause.

Wiley assured the plant’s neighbors the incident posed no threat to the public.

“This was an isolated incident that was basically immediately contained,” Wiley said.

Edmonson said seven people at the plant site were injured, two of whom were airlifted to area hospitals.

Hospitals in Baton Rouge and Gonzales reported treating people, for mostly minor injuries. Wiley said the seven injured were all in fair or stable condition.

The CF Industries plant, located at 39018 La. 3089, was the site of a 2000 explosion that killed three and injured eight others. That explosion resulted in an Occupational Safety and Health Administration fine of $149,850 and 14 citations for safety and health violations.

Another CF Industries employee was injured in November 1998 when a natural gas-fired auxiliary boiler exploded.

According to the company’s website, CF Industries’ nitrogen complex at Donaldsonville is North America’s largest nitrogen operation. It can produce and ship approximately 5 million tons of nitrogen for agricultural and industrial uses each year.

Originally built in the 1960s, the website says the Donaldsonville complex has since undergone significant expansion and modernization.

The plant produces anhydrous ammonia, urea, and urea ammonium nitrate solution, the three most used nitrogen products, the website states.

The complex ships these products by pipeline, barge, rail, and truck, serving agricultural and other customers directly and via the company’s vast distribution network. The company is headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois.

Advocate staff writer Ben Wallace contributed to this article.

On the Internet:

www.cfindustries.com