“Fundamental Failures” to Blame for TPC Port Neches Plant Explosion
Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board are blaming “fundamental failures in the system” for the explosions and fire that destroyed the TPC Group’s petrochemical plant in Port Neches, Texas on November 27th.
Butadiene Released Before TPC Port Neches Plant Explosion
The first explosion occurred around 1:00 a.m., as three employees were working on equipment inside the TPC facility, located off highway 366 near Merriman. Just before the blast, they noticed highly-flammable butadiene was being released.
“The released process fluid created a large vapor cloud,” Board member Manny Ehrlich said during a news conference yesterday afternoon. “The workers recognized the significance of the release and immediately evacuated the area.”
So far, however, investigators have not identified the specific events that triggered the butadiene release or sparked the explosion. They have yet to actually enter the TPC plant, and for now, are relying on accounts from those inside the facility when the disaster began to unfold.
Port Neches Voluntary Evacuation Order Lifted
The TPC Port Neches explosion injured three workers and forced more than 60,000 people in Port Neches, Groves, Nederland, Central Gardens, Beaux art Gardens and parts of Port Arthur to evacuate their homes through Thanksgiving Day.
Jefferson County Emergency Management announced a second voluntary evacuation for Port Neches late Wednesday, after monitoring picked up high levels of butadiene – a known carcinogen – in the area. That order was lifted yesterday, after crews managed to stop the butadiene leak.
“We felt comfortable that we were moving in the right direction and that life would get back to normal,” Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick told reporters.
Ongoing monitoring suggests the air in the affected communities does not pose a health risk, and no traces of asbestos have been detected in the area around the plant. The Sabine Neches Waterway remains closed to the public, but is being used on a case-by-case basis with guidance from the port director.
TPC Explosion is 5th Major Incident for Texas Gulf Coast This Year
The TPC plant explosion is the fifth petrochemical disaster to impact southeast Texas in 2019, and follows explosions and fires at the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery, the ITC-Deer Park petrochemical storage facility outside Houston, the KMCO chemical plant in Crosby, and the ExxonMobil Olefins plant in Baytown.
While it’s not clear why there have been so many incidents this year, the Texas Gulf Coast is home to the highest concentration of petrochemical processing and storage facilities in the world.
“There are a lot of these old plants that ought to be shut down,” Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club, told Reuters. “TPC is 75 years old.”
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