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Chemical Safety Board Sends Team to Investigate Texas Explosion

Dec. 2, 2019, 9:38 PM

A team from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is set to arrive in Texas, Dec. 2, to investigate an explosion that injured three workers.

The blast and fire just before dawn Nov. 27 at a Port Neches, Texas, chemical facility owned by TPC Group Inc. prompted mandatory evacuations for surrounding communities. A second blast hit the plant in Jefferson County roughly 12 hours later. Three workers were injured in the incident.

Hillary Cohen, a spokeswoman for the independent board, told Bloomberg Law in an email that the full investigations team was deployed Dec. 2 and one investigator arrived Nov. 29.

While the agency has no enforcement authority, it investigates the causes of disasters and issues recommendations to other federal agencies, companies, and the public to reduce the risk of future accidents.

A spokesperson for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the agency also has launched an investigation into the incident and has six months to complete the inspection.

A search of the OSHA database reveals that the company was issued an other-than-serious citation in two parts and $11,224 fine in 2016 for alleged violations of safeguards for personnel protection. The case informally settled and the fine was reduced to $6,735.

As of Nov. 29, the Port Neches fire was contained and an evacuation order for the surrounding community was lifted. A spokesperson for TPC Group wasn’t immediately available for comment.

On a website created in the wake of the explosion, an update reads that “it’s too early in the process to determine cause” and that “Unified Command remains focused on mitigating the event and maintaining the safety of responders and the community.”

The TPC Group explosion follows similar accidents elsewhere, including an explosion and fire at the KMCO LLC plant in Crosby, northeast of Houston in April, which left one person dead and two injured. In June, pipes corroded from hydrofluoric acid at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery were partially responsible for an explosion and fire that knocked out much of its refining capacity.

TPC’s Port Neches facility produces more than 16% of North America’s butadiene, used to make synthetic rubber for tires and automobile hoses, and 12% of gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether, or MTBE.

The explosion occurred before dawn at a tank with finished butadiene located in the site’s south processing unit. A second smaller blast hit the plant about 12 hours later and sent flames and debris high into the air.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fatima Hussein in Washington at fhussein@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com