Second Houston-Area Chemical Plant Fire in Weeks Kills One, Injures Two
Smoke from a fire Tuesday at a KMCO plant outside Houston, Texas. Xinhua / Lao Chengyue / via Getty Images
One person has died and two have been critically injured in the second fire to break out at a Houston-area chemical plant in little more than two weeks.
The fire started Tuesday at the KMCO plant in Crosby, Texas when a transfer line ignited near a tank of the flammable gas isobutylene, the Associated Press reported. Workers rushed to escape the blaze by climbing over a fence, and a cloud of black smoke billowed into the air.
“It shook everybody’s house around here,” Samantha Galle, who lives about a mile away from the plant, told the Associated Press.
The incident follows a fire at an Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) plant in Deer Park on March 17. That fire did not injure anyone, but it did burn for several days, prompting air quality warnings.
“It is disturbing and it is problematic that we’re seeing this incident in a facility, especially on the heels of ITC,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a media briefing.
The Crosby fire was extinguished after a five-and-a-half hour battle by firefighters, according to the fire marshal’s office. A shelter-in-place order for those within a mile of the fire was lifted around 3 p.m. It had included a mandate that people close windows and turn off air conditioning units, NBC News reported.
Initial U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests indicate that the air is safe.
“We have not seen any detections at action levels,” EPA on-scene coordinator Matt Loesel told CNN.
The two workers who were injured were taken by helicopter to a hospital.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the individuals involved, as well as our first responders, employees, and our community,” KMCO president John C. Foley told CNN. “We apologize for any inconvenience to residents in the vicinity. The well-being of our people, neighbors and the environment remain our top priorities.”
However, NBC News reported that the KMCO plant has a history of environmental violations:
- A 2018 EPA report found violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which covers the handling of hazardous materials and non-hazardous solid waste.
- EPA inspections also found violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts
- KMCO settled with Harris County in 2009 when it was sued for discharging waste water polluted with excess levels of ammonia, zinc and copper, among other toxins.
- Harris County sued KMCO again over state air and water violations in 2017.
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