Harris County Sues ExxonMobil Over Baytown Plant Fire
Harris County is suing ExxonMobil over the massive ethylene plant fire that erupted earlier this week at the company’s Baytown Refinery Complex.
41 Now Confirmed Injured in Baytown Plant Fire
An explosion at the ExxonMobil Olefins plant triggered the fire shortly after 11:00 a.m. on July 31st. Within an hour, areas west of the Baytown plant fire and south of 330 were subject to a shelter-in-place order that remained in effect for over three hours.
It took emergency crews more than 7 hours to finally extinguish the inferno.
Meanwhile, dozens of ExxonMobil workers were evaluated at local emergency rooms, including 41 who received treatment for burns and/or other minor injuries.
“Loss of Containment” Triggered ExxonMobil Olefins Explosion
So far, it’s not clear what caused the Baytown plant fire.
According to an ExxonMobil spokesperson, the blaze erupted on a recovery unit where polypropylene is purified, and occurred after “a loss of containment during which material leaked outside of a pipe or vessel.”
He added that all of the facility’s safety systems “activated as designed” after the initial explosion.
Harris County Filed Suit Day After ExxonMobil Fire
Harris County filed its lawsuit on August 1st, one day after the ExxonMobil fire disrupted life for the residents of Baytown.
The complaint claims that the incident “resulted in the emission of multiple air pollutants, including propylene, LPG, propane, and associated products of combustion,” and accuses ExxonMobil of violating the Texas Clean Air Act.
The county seeks injunctive relief ordering Exxon to take steps to prevent similar accidents in the future.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told the Texas Standard that the lawsuit was necessary because state regulators generally allow polluters off with little more than “a slap on the wrist”.
“Lately, there’s been a cap, for example, on fines,” she said. “There’s been laws that make it easier for [companies] to get off.”
“What we’re learning how to do is work around [regulatory limitations], within them better monitoring, keeping our community informed and keeping our community safe,” Hidalgo continued.
Baytown Plant Fire Harris County’s 4th Major Petrochemical Incident Since March
Harris County was already suing ExxonMobil over a March 16th fire at its Baytown refinery.
That incident was the first of four major petrochemical fires that have occurred in the county this year.
Several storage tanks at the ITC Deer Park petrochemical plant outside Houston erupted in flames the following day, and continued to burn on and off for nearly a week. Less than three weeks later, an explosion and fire at the KMCO chemical plant in Crosby killed one worker and critically injured two others.
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