The Teleajen Petrochemical Plant: Explosions and their Environmental Impact

Highly efficient technology represents the core of our modern-day society: transport infrastructure (motorways, bridges, etc.) and industrial installations. But these elements are subjected to global or regional natural threats, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms or man-made calamities – human errors or terrorist attacks. For example, the destruction of a factory can result in serious damage to the health of human beings and the environment.

On the night of December 6-7th 1983, the pyrolysis installation at the Teleajen Petrochemical Plant exploded during technological trials, killing 27 people and injuring another 39. According to eyewitnesses arrived soon at the site, the remains of the dead and metal scraps from the machines were spread on a radius of 150 to 200 metres.


In order to speed up the investigation, two subcommittees were created – a technical subcommittee and a work safety one. The former estimated the damage caused at around 35 million dollars, and the event was classified as a ”technical accident”. The latter reported a final death toll of 40 people, and a significant number of seriously injured and mutilated victims who lost their limbs. The final results of the inquiry were published in February 1984, and placed the blame on several engineers who operated the installation during the technological trials.

The real cause of the explosion was the incompetence or negligence of those who initially designed the installation. A high temperature hydrocarbon fluid passed through a steel pipe, next to another similar pipe passed a very low temperature hydrocarbon fluid. 2

In 1985, a second explosion occurred at the Teleajen Petrochemical plant, this time in the ”asphalt removal” section. Again, the death toll was high – 29 dead and 50 wounded. The investigation found that a technical error was to blame for the disaster.

In addition to the dead and wounded, among the damage caused by the two explosions we can count the significant pollution suffered by air, water and soil in the surrounding area. Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides were among the main toxic agents that affected the air, and they are related to ozone and acid particles and rains that also lead to soil contamination which, in turn, exerts a negative influence on the metabolic processes of plants and micro-organisms that are essential for a healthy soil.

The ozone acts as a contributor (catalyst) for the oxidation of sulphur dioxide (sulphurous anhydride) into sulphur trioxide (sulphuric anhydride), which reacts with water in the clouds to form sulphuric acid. The resulting acid rains are the main cause of soil pollution in the area surrounding the Teleajen Petrochemical Plant. Water that drains from acid soils can lead to the acidification of surface waters, thus harming fish and other organisms.


Air pollution from the plant aggravates asthma and chronic bronchitis and helps spread these diseases among the young inhabitants of Ploieşti. The authorities constantly receive notifications about the strong smell, described as being similar to that of rotten cabbage and rotten eggs, which is felt frequently after 9.00 PM, the time when sulphurous oil is processed at the refinery. Air quality monitoring stations in Ploieşti have indicated that numerous pollutants register elevated values.  4

The cooling towers and the open-air basins also release volatile organic compounds. The wind helps spread these pollutants from the refinery all the way to the city.

In 1998, Lukoil bought the Teleajen Petrochemical Plant for 53 million dollars and renamed it Petrotel-Lukoil. It then entered an upgrade and modernisation program which led to a 94.8% increase in the amount of oil processed, up to an annual processing volume of 2.5 million tons Of course, with the increase in production, a proportional increase in pollution soon followed. Nowadays, locals can only hope to escape the foul smell and pollution from the plant, after hundreds of notifications presented to the authorities remained unanswered.

Information sources:

Photo source: the author of this article

Article written by Ionuţ Radu and translatd by Mihail-Andreas Mitoșeriu

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