New Evacuation Order Issued for Texas City Recently Hit by Explosion, Chemical Fire

Reuters, December 5, 2019

Authorities issued a second evacuation order in a week for thousands of residents of a Texas city after air monitors discovered cancer-causing chemicals following an explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant. Officials issued the order late on Wednesday in Port Neches, Texas, a city of about 14,000 people 95 miles east of Houston, when monitors found elevated levels of butane and butadiene, a cancer-causing petrochemical. Butadiene is the main product of a TPC Group facility in the city struck by last week’s blaze and blast. Schools were closed for the rest of the week, officials said, after students had only been allowed to return to schools in Port Neches and nearby Groves on Tuesday.

There are a lot of these are old plants that ought to be shut down,” said Neil Carmen, clean air program director for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group that has sued industrial plants over toxic emissions. “TPC is 75 years old.”

TPC Group did not respond to requests for information on the butadiene emissions.

The fire at the 218-acre (88-hectare) plant, which makes flammable chemicals used in the production of synthetic rubber and a gasoline additive, was put out on Tuesday after burning for six days. Officials earlier called for an evacuation of about 60,000 residents from several cities in southeast Texas over worries of further explosions. The latest evacuation, issued by the City of Port Neches and Jefferson County Judge Branick, replaced a shelter-in-place ordered earlier on Wednesday.

Elevated butadiene levels had been measured in some parts of the city and could cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, irritated eyes and throat, the statement said. They did not pose a serious health risk, or a flammability or explosion risk, it said. The colorless, odorless gas will break down in a few hours or days after exposure to sunlight, according to the official website set up to disclose information on the fire. A local temporary shelter for residents was re-established, the statement added.

The explosion and fire at TPC Group’s Port Neches plant injured three workers. Officials have not determined the cause of the explosion and fire, which began in a butadiene processing unit.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Sumita Layek; Additional reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Richard Pullin, Timothy Heritage and Tom Brown)

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