Texas Chemical Plant Explodes One Week After EPA Rolls Back Protections
“This should not be anyone’s reality and unfortunately, it is for communities sitting at the fence-line of the petrochemical corridor along the Gulf Coast — an ever-growing corridor because of the billions of dollars being invested in petrochemical infrastructure related to plastic.”
Local officials ordered the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents after a pair of explosions at a chemical facility in Port Neches, Texas, injured three workers and shattered windows and doors of nearby homes. The explosion, which local ABC affiliate KTRK reports is burning carcinogenic chemical butadiene, comes a week after the Trump administration rolled back safety protections aimed at preventing disasters caused by dangerous chemicals.
Beyond saying that the incident involved a “processing unit,” the petrochemical company has not yet stated the exact cause of the explosion.
Chemical Disaster Rule Rollback
As Citizen Truth wrote last week, the Trump EPA recently rolled back a safety rule aimed at preventing similar incidents at chemical plants:
“The Chemical Disaster Rule was imposed by the Obama administration after a 2013 explosion in West, Texas killed 15 people, including 12 first responders, and injured over 160 others. The rule mandated that chemical companies take new measures to prevent similar accidents, including the use of safer technology and procedures, third-party audits in the event of a problem, determining the “root-problem” of any spill, and public access to information about the types of chemicals stored on their sites.”
Nearly 40 House Democrats urged the EPA to retain the Obama-era rule in a letter, citing 73 accidents and leaks that have taken place since it was suspended.
The Chemical Disaster Rule rollback came a week after a federal appeals court ruled that the Trump administration illegally “excluded millions of tons of some of the most dangerous materials in public use from a safety review,” as reported by the Associated Press.
TPC Group And Other Petrochemical Manufacturers
The TPC Group, the owner of the Port Neches plant, describes itself as “a leading producer of value-added products derived from petrochemical raw materials.” The formerly publicly traded company has a 75 year history in Houston and Port Neches. Its environmental record has worsened since it was purchased in 2012 by the New York private equity firms First Reserve and SK Capital Partners, which still own TPC today.
“This facility has a track record of violating the Clean Air Act, with five other illegal emissions events just in 2019, emitting carcinogenic 1,3 butadiene and other chemicals, and a history of community complaints,” said Catherine Fraser, Environment Texas’s clean air associate, in a statement. Fraser notes that butadiene, the carcinogenic chemical burning in Wednesday’s explosions, has been the main source of concern among regulators at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The TPC facility has failed to abide by the Federal Clean Air Act for the past 12 consecutive quarters. “According to the EPA, the TPC Plant has been in non-compliance 12 separate quarters over the last 3 years, and has received 7 formal enforcement actions over the last 5 years,” said Fraser.
During a news conference Wednesday morning, TPC Group’s manager of safety, health and security Troy Monk said he was unaware of past fines and investigations regarding emissions standards. “Monk said he could not comment on the plant’s compliance,” reports Beaumont Enterprise, a newspaper headquartered in Beaumont, Texas.
The Port Neches explosion is the latest in a series of industrial incidents that have afflicted the region. NPR reports that Houston saw three fires at chemical plants from March to April this year, and more than 30 people sustained injuries after a fire erupted in an Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown.
“Within the last year, I have witnessed an unacceptable trend of significant incidents impacting the Gulf Coast region,” Texas Commission on Environmental Quality 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.”
Environmentalists spoke out against the negligence of the TPC Group and other petrochemical manufacturers, and condemned the ongoing production of similar facilities.
“This should not be anyone’s reality and unfortunately, it is for communities sitting at the fence-line of the petrochemical corridor along the Gulf Coast — an ever-growing corridor because of the billions of dollars being invested in petrochemical infrastructure related to plastic,” Yvette Arellano from the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service said in a statement.
Over a dozen similar plastic-producing petrochemical plants are being built or have been proposed around the world. As Citizen Truth previously wrote: “Large U.S.-based oil firms such as ExxonMobil Chemical and Shell Chemical will help fuel a 40% rise in plastics over the next decade, according to experts. These companies have invested more than $180 billion in plastic production since 2010, boosted by the boom in shale gas.”