On April 2, a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas caught fire, killing one worker and injuring two others. A tank holding a chemical used to make fuel additives burned for about five hours before it was extinguished.
An emergency shelter in place order was put into effect for all residents within a one-mile radius from the facility.
This incident happened just two weeks after a massive fire erupted at a chemical storage facility in Deer Park, a suburb 20 miles south of Crosby. On March 17, burning petrochemicals sent a thick plume of black smoke over the suburbs surrounding the plant, resulting in a shelter in place order for nearby residents. A containment wall broke and spilled chemical waste into waterways that lead to the Houston Ship Channel.
The Deer Park fire burned for four days, releasing benzene fumes into the air. According to the World Health Organization, chronic exposure to benzene can lead to cancer, while acute exposure can lead to headaches, dizziness or loss of consciousness. Intercontinental Terminals, the company who owns the facility, is being sued by the state of Texas and faces many legal claim inquiries from residents.
Both Intercontinental Terminals and KMCO, which owns the Crosby plant, have breached environmental protections in the past.
“ITC has a history of environmental violations, and this latest incident is especially disturbing and frightening,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement. “No company can be allowed to disrupt lives and put public health and safety at risk.”
According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, KMCO’s corporate agents pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge of violating the Clean Air Act in 2016. Two employees had made false entry logs of tests of tanks that were known to be leaking chemicals and submitted the false logs to the federal and state environmental authorities. This violation went on from 2008-2012.
The EPA also cited KMCO for failing to comply with regulations on its risk-management plan for the plant, but settled for a $2,700 penalty.
Of course, accidents can happen at facilities that handle dangerous and explosive chemicals. But with great chemicals comes great responsibility. These companies must ensure the safety of workers, the public and the environment.
In 1984, an explosion at the Citgo Oil Refinery in Romeoville, which was owned by Union Oil at the time, killed 17 people and caused major property damage. Other smaller fires have occurred since then, including one in 2013.
Most of the time, these companies follow strict safety standards. These standards can only do so much to protect against chance and human error.
With so many chemical plants and heavy industry near Lewis, it is important to keep news stories like the fires in Texas in mind. While the possibility of a refinery blowing up is unlikely, when you live near heavy industry, it is always beneficial to stay informed.