Houston Chemical Fire Leaves One Dead, 2 Critically Injured

By Kevin Crowley | April 3, 2019

About the photo: A plume of smoke rises in the air following a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) petrochemical storage site in Deer Park, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, March 19.

An explosion and fire at a chemical plant northeast of Houston left one person dead and two battling for their lives, just two weeks after a blaze at an oil storage facility caused thousands of gallons of petrochemicals to flow into the city’s shipping channel.

The blaze at a chemicals blending facility in Crosby, about 25 miles from central Houston, is now extinguished with no further casualties, Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, said by phone. It began at about 11 a.m. on Tuesday when a transfer line carrying isobutylene, a flammable gas, ignited and spread to a nearby warehouse. Firefighters are keeping the site cool to minimize the risk of it catching alight again.

Requests for residents and students at nearby schools to stay inside, known as ‘shelter in place’ orders, were lifted in the late afternoon as the fire subsided.

Workers interviewed by news channel ABC13 Houston said they were told to evacuate after a chemical leak was discovered and a series of explosions occurred as they were leaving. One said he had to crawl under a fence to get out.

The disaster comes just two weeks after storage tanks owned by Mitsui & Co.’s Intercontinental Terminal Co. burned for four days, causing thousands of gallons of gasoline products to pour into the Houston Ship Channel. As many as 1,000 people sought medical attention due to smoke and benzene levels in the air and the waterway was shuttered for days, starving refineries of feedstocks.

“Today’s incident in Crosby is the third chemical fire in recent weeks, highlighting the insidious nature of corporate pollution in the Houston area,” Stephanie Thomas, community organizer at Public Citizen, which advocates for environmental protection, said in a statement. “We no longer can accept a culture that places profits before people.”

Brake Fluid

The plant in Crosby makes products used in brake fluid, antifreeze and in oil production and refining. It’s operated by KMCO LLC, owned by Owner Resource Group LLC , a private equity firm based in Austin, Texas.

KMCO’s sites in Crosby and Port Arthur have the capacity to produce more than 900 million pounds (410 million kilograms) a year of chemicals. The Crosby site has 28 reactors and more than 600 chemical storage tanks, according to KMCO’s website.

KMCO apologized for the incident in a statement that was tweeted by the Harris Country fire marshal’s office.

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