Olin Chlor Alkali St. Gabriel Plant

Olin Chlor Alkali Products operates the St. Gabriel Plant, located on the banks of the Mississippi River near the town of St. Gabriel. The plant has been in operation since 1970 but was only acquired by Olin in 2007. About 90 employees work at this facility, which is a manufacturer of bleach products. Olin Chlor operates a number of such plants in the United States and partners with many firms in the wood and paper pulp industry as well as chemical development.

Chlorine-based products are used in almost every segment of the industrial world and are also found in many common household items. At the St. Gabriel facility, sodium and chlorine are separated to form caustic soda, chlorine bleach, hydrogen and sulfuric acid. These products are used by other manufacturers in the making of pulp and paper, pharmaceuticals, food products and semiconductors. Many of the specialty chlorine bleaches used in swimming pools and other water systems have ingredients made at plants such as the Olin chemical facility at St. Gabriel.

In 2009 a new facility was completed at the site which incorporates newer technology and environmentally-friendly processing methods that increases production efficiency, making the plant today the third largest in the United States in the total output of chlor alkali. This type of manufacturing plant is called a membrane cell facility, and involves separation of chlorine and sodium ions with a minimal amount of residual emissions and zero mercury content.

Because it is a chemical plant, the Olin facility at St. Gabriel employs workers that must operate machinery designed to mix and separate chemicals, and such operations are closely monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency, and other authorities. Chemical spills and noxious fumes are sometimes encountered at this type of production facility.

Many substances that were hazardous to human health were frequently used in chemical plants; some of these substances are now banned.  One of those substances, asbestos was used as a protective material in facilities like the Olin Chlor Alkali plant in St. Gabriel. Asbestos is a natural material that is lightweight, inexpensive and good for use as a heat shielding substance and fire retardant. It was common for chemical plants and other manufacturing facilities to use asbestos near boilers and furnaces, utilize it as a firewall material in ceilings and sheetrock, and coat wires and pipes with asbestos fibers.

The asbestos fibers can become airborne and be inhaled by humans, building up in the lungs and causing health problems in later years. Asbestosis and mesothelioma are two of the diseases caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with a latency period of 20 to 50 years. Since it goes so long without being detected, the cancer is so advanced once a patient is diagnosed that there is little a conventional cancer treatment can do to help combat the disease.