On December 4, 2023, the city of La Porte in southeast Texas near Houston reported a chemical leak of hazardous materials at the Altivia facility. The Office of Emergency Management issued a shelter in place warning for residents and businesses south of Fairmont street between Bay Area and S. 16th Street. A rupture of a pressure release valve resulted in the release of phosgene gas.
What is phosgene gas?
Phosgene (COCl₂) is a highly toxic, colorless gas that has a suffocating odor like freshly cut hay or grass. It is an industrial chemical used in the production of plastics, pesticides, and other chemicals. Phosgene is also a byproduct of the manufacture of polyurethane foam and is sometimes released into the environment during fires.
Is phosgene gas dangerous?
Phosgene is a highly toxic gas that can cause severe respiratory problems, including pulmonary edema, which is a buildup of fluid in the lungs. It can also cause skin and eye irritation. Inhaling phosgene can be fatal, even in small amounts.
The symptoms of phosgene exposure can vary depending on the amount of gas inhaled and the length of exposure. Early symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and nausea. In severe cases, phosgene exposure can lead to pulmonary edema, which can be fatal.
What should you do if you think you have been exposed?
You should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Pulmonary edema is treated with oxygen therapy and in severe cases mechanical ventilation.