Response from Petroleum Company 'Unacceptable,' CSB Says

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) said today it unanimously voted to designate as "Closed-Unacceptable Response" the response from Third Coast Terminals, a petroleum products manufacturer in the Houston area, to a board recommendation stemming from a major fire at the company's plant near Friendswood, Texas, in 2002. This is the first time in its nine-year history that CSB has designated a safety recommendation's response "unacceptable."

CSB issued its final report on the fire in March 2003. The plant blended and packaged motor oils and other automotive products, but CSB found it wasn't designed or equipped to prevent the spread of fire: It no smoke or heat detectors, sprinklers, or fire alarms; firefighting water was not supplied to the plant; and warehouse buildings lacked firewalls and were built too close together. The board concluded installed fire protection systems could have prevented the total loss of the plant from the fire, which consumed 1.2 million gallons of combustible and flammable liquids and destroyed the site. One hundred nearby residents were evacuated and a school was closed; the plant wasn't rebuilt, but Third Coast Terminals continues to operate a facility in nearby Pearland.

The board had recommended that Third Coast Terminals audit the Pearland facility and ensure its fire suppression and control procedures meet relevant standards under the National Fire Code and OSHA's flammable and combustible liquids standard. CSB said that Third Coast responded, however, that it disputed the conclusions of the CSB investigation, and the company did not provide any evidence that it has implemented the recommendation. "Having to close this safety recommendation as 'unacceptable' causes us significant concern," CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said. "This was a serious fire that threatened the community of Friendswood and caused the loss of an important employer. . . . We were extremely pleased when Brazoria County, responding to one of the board's recommendations, immediately adopted a fire code covering unincorporated areas. However, companies also need to act promptly to enact the board's recommendations, which will protect their workforces and the communities in which they operate."

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