Early Wednesday morning, a major fire at a Texas petrochemical plant, which manufactures petrochemicals used to make rubber and resins, rattled the people living more than 30 miles (48 km) away. The blast occurred at 1 a.m. CT (0700 GMT), according to the sources familiar with the fire-fighting and rescue operations.
60,000 people were forced to evacuate, as the fire continued to burn for the second day on Thursday. People were a little uncertain as to whether they could return home in time to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.
The plant which is situated 90 miles (145 km) east of Houston has been out of compliance with Federal clean air laws for years and has a long history of environmental violations. It was also declared a high priority violator by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Texas Tribune and state records.
After the first explosion, the people were advised not to touch the “black floating stuff” (debris) by Troy Monk, TPC Group’s Director of Health Safety and Security.
Words from the Jefferson County Judge:
The evacuated areas are being patrolled to avoid robbery and State Agencies are keeping a check on the air quality. The fire-fighting system of the plant was damaged, as the blast collapsed a roof over the plant’s control room. Some homes close to the plant were heavily damaged. Early Thursday morning, the police went door-to-door searching for injured residents, said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
The mandatory evacuation was issued by the Jefferson County Judge, Jeff Branick. He said that on Thursday firefighters were spraying water cannons over the blaze so the water vapors could cool the fire, causing it to burn out. Even though the fire was contained, Branick said he wasn’t prepared to lift the order until he felt it was completely safe for the residents to return.
Branick issued the mandatory evacuation in the afternoon. He was apologetic for the inconvenience caused, as it was Thanksgiving. Adding to it, he mentioned that the safety of the community is always the top concern.
Impact on Health:
The fire is burning a chemical called butadiene. It is a colorless gas with a gasoline-like smell that is considered a health hazard, according to the US National Library of Medicine. The effects on health vary according to the level of exposure.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said that the volatile organic compounds present in the smoke caused by the explosion can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, and nausea. However, no impact to water was reported.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Explained:
Irritation to the eyes, throat nose, and lungs as well frostbite can be caused by lower exposures; whereas, higher exposure can damage the central nervous system or cause symptoms including distorted blurred vision, vertigo, general tiredness, lowered blood pressure, headaches, or nausea.
Talking about a chronic impact OSHA said that there is a “strong casual relationship” between butadiene and cancer, which was derived from experiments conducted on mice and rats.