Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Texas Petrochemical Fire Continues to Burn

November 27, 2019

AdobeStock / © Sharrif Che' Lah

Three workers were injured in a massive explosion on Wednesday that sparked a blaze at a Texas petrochemical plant, the latest in a series of chemical plant accidents in the region.

An initial blast at a TPC Group complex in Port Neches, Texas, was followed by secondary explosions that shattered windows, blew locked doors off their hinges and prompted officials to evacuate homes within a half-mile radius of the facility, which about 90 miles east of Houston.

Peyton Keith, a TPC spokesman, said fire officials were determined to let the fire in a butadiene processing unit burn itself out, and were focused on keeping the flames from spreading. He could not say when the fire could be extinguished.

Toby Baker, head of the state's pollution regulator, criticized the "unacceptable trend of significant incidents" in the region and pledged to review the state's compliance efforts.

The fiery blast caused extensive damage to operations at the 218-acre site and follows other fires at petrochemical producers and storage facilities in Texas. A March blaze at chemical storage complex outside Houston burned for days and was followed a month later with another at a KMCO LLC plant northeast of Houston that killed one worker and injured a second. A fire at an Exxon Mobil Corp chemical plant in Baytown, Texas, in July injured 37.

People more than 30 miles away from the complex, which supplies petrochemicals for synthetic rubber and resins and makes a gasoline additive, were shaken awake by the 1 a.m. CT (0700 GMT) explosion, sources familiar with the fire-fighting and rescue operations said.

The blast collapsed a roof over the plant's control room, sending workers fleeing, and damaged its fire-fighting system, people familiar with the matter said. Some homes close to the plant also sustained heavy damage and police were going door-to-door to check if residents were injured, said the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

One of the three injured workers was flown by helicopter to a Houston hospital's burns unit, the sources said.

All three of the workers taken to hospital were treated and released.

A smoky plume visible for miles away released volatile organic compounds that can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches and nausea, pollution regulator Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said. No impacts to water were reported.

The plant employs 175 people and routinely has 50 contract workers on site. The explosion occurred in a processing unit.

"We cannot speak to the cause of the incident or the extent of damage," the company said. A spokeswoman declined to comment on the extent of the damage or when the fire might be put out.

TPC processes petrochemicals for use in the manufacture of synthetic rubber, nylon, resins, plastics and MBTE, a gasoline additive. The company supplies more than a third of the feedstock butadiene in North America, according to its website.

"Right now, our focus is on protecting the safety of responders and the public, and minimizing any impact to the environment," TPC Group added on its website. (Reporting by Erwin Seba

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