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LyondellBasell Plant Tour: March 20-21, 2019

Mar 22, 2019, 12:48 PM by Paul Eichert
University of Cincinnati and University of Illinois at Chicago students and faculty toured the LyondellBasell plant in Channelview, TX on March 21, 2019.

Trip Overview

By Cynthia Betcher

The University of Cincinnati (UC) Education and Research Center (ERC) sponsored an interdisciplinary field trip to LyondellBasell Channelview Operation (CVO) on March 21, 2019. In addition to students and faculty members from UC’s occupational safety and health engineering, industrial hygiene, and occupational health nursing programs, an industrial hygiene student from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s ERC joined the tour (see Figure 1). The visit to CVO began with a mandatory safety orientation video and quiz. Then, the group was provided breakfast and a lecture and PowerPoint presentation by the CVO Industrial Hygienist. The students spent more than an hour participating in a question and answer session. In addition to plant and occupational safety and health, the group discussed the nearby fire occurring at a petrochemical plant and a shelter-in-place order due to risk of benzene gas. The group was assured there was no risk to the CVO or the group members. Following the presentation and discussion, students toured the employee health and wellness clinic. The nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, and nurse case manager answered student questions. The visit concluded with a bus tour of the CVO complex which spans almost 3,900 acres. Additional information on LyondellBasell’s CVO complex can be found at https://www.lyondellbasell.com/en/channelview-complex/

University of Cincinnati and University of Illinois at Chicago students and faculty toured the LyondellBasell plant in Channelview, TX on March 21, 2019. 

Group of University of Cincinnati and University of Illinois at Chicago students and faculty visiting the LyondellBasell Plant in Channelview Texas

Environmental Health

By Vishal D. Nathu and Carson Whitehead Jr.

LyondellBasell produces a wide variety of chemicals, polymers, fuels, and technologies at their Channelview, TX location. The north side of the facility manufactures ethylene, propylene, butadiene, and benzene. The south side of the facility uses these reagents to produce propylene oxide, styrene monomer, and other derivatives and gasoline-blending products. These chemicals are not only dangerous to human health but are harmful to the environment if not adequately contained and managed. The facility emissions include but are not limited to nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. To limit exposure and to prevent releases at the Channelview Facility, EHS specialists prioritize keeping everything “in the pipes.” The facility also prides itself in limiting the number of shut-downs and start-ups of process equipment. LyondellBasell invests heavily in combustion controls to limit the emission of harmful chemicals. To operate, the facility requires a large volume of water for cooling and steam production. Most of the water is obtained via a nearby lake. Water used at the facility is sufficiently remediated before being returned to the lake. Regarding waste, the facility attempts to get the maximum potential out of all reagents. “Waste” that cannot be used at the Channelview facility is typically sent via pipeline to nearby facilities that can then use what LyondellBasell cannot. The facility has received the “Caring for Texas Award”, which recognizes the facility’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Lastly, LyondellBasell’s environmental management system standard provides a mechanism for compliance assurance and continuous improvement regarding environmental emissions.

Employee Health

By Tamara F. Small and Elizabeth Bien

The Employee Health and Wellness Center at LyondellBasell provides employees of the Channelview site health services to support their occupational and personal health needs. The Center is led by a medical doctor with an onsite team consisting of a family nurse practitioner (FNP), physician assistant, case management nurse, medical assistant, and administrative assistant. Aesthetically, the center is clean, beautifully designed, and has a welcoming atmosphere complete with a weight scale for employees and a lactation room. There two exam rooms and a dedicated bathroom for conducting drug screens. The exam rooms have areas for vision testing, audiograms, respiratory fit testing, pulmonary function testing, preemployment physicals, and laboratory testing. There also is a room for acute emergencies, several eye wash stations, full body showers, an emergency cart, and stretcher. The FNP provides episodic care, occupational health services, and health education to employees. Episodic care may include rapid antigen detection test for streptococcus and needed treatment, evaluation of ear aches, and slit lamp evaluations for acute eye injuries. The onsite team collaborates with an industrial hygienist to identify employees needing medical surveillance specific to occupational exposures while performing their designated job duties. Some medical surveillance programs related to the occupational exposures are benzene, hexavalent chrome, respiratory protection program, hearing protection, and other chemical exposures required by state and federal regulations. Due to chemical exposures, employees are required to have an annual complete blood count. All documentation is completed electronically and via paper charting. All charts are kept on file for at least 30 years. Also, as part of the wellness program and in partnership with Life Beats and Athena, the FNP provides health screenings to the employees and encourages preventative care such as prostate screenings, self-breast exams, and blood panels for cholesterol and diabetes screening. The case management nurse provides support for employees on short term disability, occupational injuries, work restrictions, disability, and family medical leave. Upon return to work from restrictions, injury and illness, fitness for duty is ensured for each employee. Travel health, including travel vaccines, is outsourced to contracted clinics.

Chemicals

By Michael Benjamin and Yao Addor

Major operations at the LyondellBasell facility include importing, refining, and transporting dozens of raw chemicals and their final products for use in the U.S. chemical industry. The ultimate goal is to keep workers safe while working with a multitude of chemicals and processes that are not only highly flammable but also present a variety of potential health hazards. The industrial hygienist’s role as the site’s sole industrial hygienist includes reviewing past and current chemical exposure data and prioritizing which chemicals and worker groups should be the focus of exposure assessments. He also completes key parts of the company’s hearing conservation, respiratory protection, radiological protection, heat stress, ergonomics, and hazard communication programs. Usually he focuses more on exposure monitoring for on-site sources, including asbestos, silica, lead, benzene, butadiene, styrene, and ethylene oxide. Ironically, some of the monitoring he completed right before we arrived were not exposures from work processes at the LyondellBassell facility but resulted from another facility’s burning petrochemical tanks nearby. While the fire had been put out, volatile chemicals were still off-gassing and had the potential to be carried to the site and affect workers, so he was actively monitoring the area for benzene and other chemicals. It was obvious that he works hard to stay on top of hazards currently present while also responding quickly to new hazards that may arise without much warning. At the end of the trip, we appreciated the wide range of hazards that were consistently being monitored and that the occupational health nurse’s and industrial hygienist’s roles complement each other in protecting worker health. Each has their own responsibilities but assist each other by communicating new developments to the other. We learned a lot about the practical role of an Industrial hygienist and the challenges associated with it, and appreciated the sense of collaboration among personnel involved in the occupational health at this plant.

Engineering

By Vianessa Ng and Ann Parker

What does plastics, technology, and Channelview, TX have in common? The answer is LyondellBasell. The company founded in 1957 occupies about 14,000 acres of land (separated into North and South plants) and manufactures 47 products (mainly polyolefins, polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene) from 130 reactors and 214 distillers at the Channelview site. The plant employs 1,400 employees and contractors. The North plant has 2 olefin units; whereas, the South plant has 2 POSM (polyolefin styrene monomer) units. The industrial hygienist leading our site visit said, “We don’t make chocolate milk... everything we make are flammable liquids,” reflecting the importance of focusing on worker safety. The company operates continual exothermic reaction processes year-round to manufacture polymers. Polyolefin styrene monomer, butadiene, benzene, ethylene oxide, and styrene maleic anhydride monomers are primarily used in the processes. The polymerization process initially begins with the addition of natural gas liquids and petroleum liquid feedstocks that flow through clear pipes into cracking furnaces (when the reaction becomes hot enough, it glows brightly) containing either hydrogen gas or methane gas. After that, the reactants undergo a quench and a fractionation cycle. In this process, employees inside a control room monitor 14 furnaces operating up to 1,400°F, under maximum pressures of 555 psi, generating about 5.4 million ethylene per day from one olefin unit. Every 7 years major shut-down maintenance is performed. To prevent overpressure, trips and fail-safe valves are used as safety precaution. Often, malodorous odors can be generated as a by-product from the reaction processes, these can escape out of steam pipes into the air, which is a nuisance to the employees and surrounding community. The smell is minimized through the use of C1-C5 scrubbers and flare tips. However, their main safety concerns are starting/stopping reaction processes (i.e., over/depressurization), mechanical failure (i.e., wear and tear of bearings, seals, and other), and gas release (i.e., leaks from seal damage).

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