The Chemical Time Bomb Next Door in Houston
Chemical plants may be in your neighborhood – and that can be deadly for tens of thousands of Houston residents.
The Houston economy depends on the chemical industry, yet many homes, schools and businesses sit beside the most dangerous chemicals on earth. A chemical accident could wreak a terrible toll in human lives. This keeps chemical safety experts up at night.
Death Across The Fence Line
Sam Mannan has the lives of hundreds of thousands of people weighing on his mind. He heads the Texas A&M O’Conner Process Safety Center. The Houston Chronicle gathered the chemical inventories of 2,500 Houston area facilities and had them analyzed for deadly potential by the O’Conner Center, ranked on toxicity, quantities on hand and size of surrounding population.
The results were sobering.
Fifty-five facilities had the highest potential for harm and another 600 had medium potential, with 80 percent of those facilities within two miles of 10,000 or more people.
Take Degesch America for instance. The pesticide stored at the Degesch America warehouse in Pearland is so poisonous it cannot legally be used within 100 feet of a building occupied by living creatures. Two pounds of it in the ground near a home in Utah killed two little girls. The Degesch warehouse holds up to 75,000 pounds and is across the street from a movie theater and less than a mile from a subdivision.
Not far from Degesch, Syntech Chemicals stores nearly 50,000 pounds of a formaldehyde solution. The facility had a methyl alcohol explosion and another, separate fire within three months of each other recently, prompting a $100,000 OSHA fine.
A silane gas leak at the Sun Edison facility in Pasadena burned three workers, one severely. Fifteen workers were injured there from a 2008 leak and in 2011 OSHA cited Sun Edison for cracked valves and lack of valve safety protocols.
The sheer number of facilities, lack of public awareness and poor zoning adds up to a hopeless game of catch up for authorities.
“We are literally running from disaster to disaster without a well thought-out plan,” he (Mannan) said. It’s only a matter of time, Mannan said, before an accident reaches beyond a plant’s fence line to claim lives.
Who Watches Out For You?
On average an explosion, fire or toxic leak occurs from a chemical facility every six weeks around the Houston area. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Area rarely scrutinize these facilities, except when an accident has already happened. Most local emergency agencies are badly underfunded.
The public often doesn’t realize when it has dodged a terrifying bullet. An explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery near Los Angeles came perilously close to releasing deadly cloud of hydrofluoric acid, as this CBS News report shows:
Your Advocate For Justice
A chemical plant explosion, fire or leak can result in serious personal injuries and fatalities. Our Houston area attorneys investigate and offer personal counsel, starting with a free consultation. We represent our clients on a contingency basis, which means you don’t pay us unless you win.