Pre-Thanksgiving Blast at Texas Chemical Plant Raises Serious Questions

Two blasts rocked an east Texas chemical plant the day before Thanksgiving, leaving three workers injured and 50,000 people under evacuation orders. The two explosions happened 13 hours apart at the Texas Petroleum Chemical (TPC) plant in Port Naches, just outside of Beaumont.

According to Troy Monk, the company’s director of health, safety and security, the explosions occurred in an area of the plant where butadiene is made. Butadiene is a chemical used to make synthetic rubber and other products. It is known to be highly carcinogenic as well, though according to some reports the main storage area for the chemical was spared from the brunt of the blast, reducing but not eliminating contamination.

Fire, Debris Raise Cancer Concerns

Although the main butadiene storage facility avoided destruction, serious concerns exist. Fires continued to burn for days after the blasts, leading officials to urge area residents, who were allowed to return their homes two days after the incident, to avoid touching any debris from the fires at the TPC plant.

Officials also worried about possible asbestos exposure, cautioning people to be on the lookout for white, chalky material in the debris. Asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer for which there is no cure.

Plant Had a History of Violations

The Texas Tribune detailed a troubled history of regulatory violations at the Port Naches TPC plant.

  • In 2014, the plant’s owners were fined more than $45,000 by Texas authorities for “exceeding the volatile organic compounds annual emissions rate” by expelling too much nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide over a two-year period.
  • In 2017, TPC was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $72,187, upgrade its equipment, and spend at least $275,000 on fence-line monitoring for butadiene.
  • In January 2019, TPC was fined nearly $215,000 for “air quality violations stemming from its failure to comply with allowable emissions limits.”
  • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has fined TPC multiple times during 2019.

All of this has led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare TPC a “high priority violator” of environmental and emissions regulations.

Latest in a String of Incidents

The TPC Thanksgiving explosions continue a disturbing trend of incidents involving Houston-area petrochemical plants. There were three separate fires and explosions at chemical facilities in March and April, including one in Crosby that caused a worker’s death. In July, a fire at an Exxon facility in Baytown injured 37 people (we wrote about that incident in an earlier blog post).

This trend is on the minds of state leaders.

“Within the last year, I have witnessed an unacceptable trend of significant incidents impacting the Gulf Coast region,” TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker said in a statement. “While not all emergency events may be prevented, it is imperative that industry be accountable and held to the highest standard of compliance to ensure the safety of the state’s citizens and the protection of the environment.”

As of the time of this writing, TPC has not determined the cause of the blasts at the Port Naches location, which employs 175 full-time employees and 50 contractors, according to NPR reporting.

Legal Assistance for People Injured in Explosions

Ted B. Lyon & Associates is a Dallas law firm experienced in representing injured workers and citizens in places impacted by chemical explosions. If you would like to speak with an attorney, call us at 877-Ted-Lyon / 877-833-5966 or contact us online.