Three Injured in Plant Explosion in Port Neches, Texas

A chemical plant exploded early Wednesday last week, leaving a blazing fire, city-wide damage, and at least three employees injured.

Just 90 miles outside of Houston, Texas in a small city called Port Neches, a chemical plant exploded. The fire still burns, and officials say they cannot predict how long it will burn.

The TPC Group plant damaged parts of the city, injured at least three employees, and caused a mandatory evacuation within a 4-mile radius of the plant because of the potential for more explosions. Since the initial explosion, there occurred a series of smaller ones on Wednesday.
According to one CNN article, one explosion later that day “launched a tower into the air with balls of fire.”

Of course, with a large explosion like this one, authorities are not easily able to predict future hazards, stop the damage, and ensure safety for the surrounding area. Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said the initial explosion knocked out power to the plant, and authorities have “no ability to check the volume of available chemicals” and “no way to calculate burn rates” at the moment.  

The accident actually involved three burning tanks, and emergency response teams were on the plant site working to prevent the blaze from spreading. Crews are reportedly still trying to keep surrounding storage tanks cool.

“Right now, it’s contained and not going anywhere but it’s not under control,” said Crystal Holmes, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Capt.

At the time of the explosion, about 30 people—out of 175 full-time employees and 50 contractors. Personnel were evacuated from the plant, and three employees have since been treated and released from medical facilities following the incident.

What is feeding the fire, though? The burning chemical is butadiene, said police. It’s a colorless gas that is considered a health hazard, according to the US National Library of Medicine. It is made from processing petroleum and is used for synthetic rubber and plastics.

Supposedly, the surrounding area’s air qualities are still “safe”: the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the butadiene levels at a monitoring station about four miles west of the incident are “well below concentrations of health concern or odorous levels.”

The TPC Group has established a number of air monitoring stations throughout the community, and authorities insist there are no current threats to public air quality.

The city’s damage means everything from billowing plumes of smoke to front doors blown off to houses shook to the core. Many residents were woken up and shaken by the explosion. Some felt their houses shake or even had their windows and doors damaged. The sky was painted burnt orange just following the blast that morning.

Authorities are asking people to stay off the roads anywhere near the refineries, obey all the barricades in place, and evacuated when required to.  

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  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - November December 2019

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