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Residents Evacuated After Chemical Plant Explosion Near Houston

by Countable | 8.31.17

What’s the story?

Explosions and fires at a chemical plant 25 miles northeast of Houston prompted evacuations of a 1.5 mile radius of the site. Authorities and company officials insist the volatile compounds being released are non-toxic, though an EPA study has stated that the organic peroxides created at the plant are eye and throat irritants and may cause liver damage.

The incident, combined with the one million pounds of toxic chemicals that were released into the air via three other chemical plants in the area in recent days raises serious questions about oversight, regulations, and disaster preparedness.

Why does it matter?

Authorities began issuing warnings Tuesday night, in fear that the cooling systems that prevent combustion of the materials would fail. About 200 residents living within a 1.5 mile radius of the plant were mandatorily evacuated on Wednesday.

The flooding at the Arkema plant forced all but 11 employees, tasked with monitoring the situation, to evacuate the plant. By Thursday in the early morning all employees had been evacuated and local fire officials reported noxious black smoke and what sounded to be small explosions coming from the plant.

The water surrounding the plant is still too high to approach the plant to assess the situation directly. FEMA has maintained that overflights by chemical-detecting aircraft, however, showed the smoke did not contain "concerning" levels of hazardous materials, according to the Washington Post.

Company officials have stated that the situation is still quite serious. At a press conference, Richard Rennard, of Arkema Group, said, "That's why we want people to respect [the] radius. It's not over. This is very serious and we know that."

The Associated Press reports the company is required to submit "worst-case scenario" plans to the EPA because of the toxic compounds present on the site.

According to a 2014 filing, the company stated that at worst 1.1 million residents could be affected over 23 miles. The company considered the scenario highly unlikely because it would require all systems at the plant to fail and strong winds to blow directly towards Houston.

Currently, power is down at the plant and it is unclear when it will come back, but as of now all systems have not failed. Additionally, it is unclear how long the chemicals at the plant can be safely stored in this current state.

In February the company was fined nearly $110,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for ‘serious’ safety violations, which could have resulted in serious injury or death. The fine was later reduced to just over $90,000.

What can you do?

Chemicals are an essential aspect of our modern life, and chemical plants are not going away. So, what do we do to protect the public in the event of enormous disasters like Hurricane Harvey? Is there anything we can do? Should Congress direct the EPA to require companies, particularly in areas like the Gulf Coast, to prepare for disasters of the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey? Would that level of regulation kill industry and strangle the economy?

Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: myrecordjournal.com / Creative Commons)

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Leave a comment
(23)
  • KansasTamale
    08/31/2017
    ···

    This plant situation is the reason why our country MUST HAVE REGULATIONS TO PROTECT PEOPLE & ENVIRONMENT. Why any state or this country would not regulate it things that can explode or create a fire is a travesty and horribly uncaring. Texas has NO REGULATIONS on refineries or chemical plants, to name a few. THIS STORM & many other types of things like this are WHY WE HAVE TO HAVE REGULATIONS.

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  • Marcus
    09/01/2017
    ···

    I feel that the company should be held accountable for any toxic waste spillage and contaminates product which not only harmed the environment dearly but also the animals and people in which inhabits that area all kind of sickness and disease can and will present catastrophic and deadly affects on the ozone layer and Area just as companies go through major checks and mandated procedures and policies to run its facilities so there should be emergency shut off valves and disaster precautions which are placed in affect for such disasters which may or shall occur at any unpredictable moment so me on my plea is that any manufacturer or textile or oil refiner which possesses a magnanimous and dramatic affect should be fined 100% and have a protocol for such events that will not allow chemicals to ever spill or leak outside its refinery or confined Structure.

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  • Pam
    09/01/2017
    ···

    The head of the EPA just postponed for 2 years rules that were set to go into affect last March. These rules would have helped to prevent such accidents at chemical plants and would have protected the general population. Chemical lobbyists don't care about our health and well being. This is why we need rules and laws and a strong EPA that works for citizens. Pruitt should be fired.

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  • JoshieVersace
    09/01/2017
    ···

    And this is why the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is so important and not to be viewed as unnecessary by those who wish and are trying to dismantle it

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  • Mark
    08/31/2017
    ···

    JOHN, JEFF, and TRENT - I am worried that our federal response to Harvey is inadequate. Lt General Honore, who managed Katrina response so well, is not happy at all with response to Harvey, which is so much bigger. He said the the Katrina rescue effort had 240 helicopters deployed by this time after the storm, while Harvey response has just 100. What are Trump and Pence and Texas legislators doing? This is not the time for self-congratulatory press conferences ("you're doing a helluva job, Brownie!") or fly-in photo opps - please deploy the Northern Command to help those people now!

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  • Dara
    09/01/2017
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    These unforseen disasters are exactly why we need common regulations. The environment and human life take precedent over business and profits.

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  • J. scott
    09/03/2017
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    We need to think about this while we're gutting and constraining agencies like OSHA and the EPA. Oh, and local governments might consider having better zoning practices so plants like this are not in neighborhoods. Oh, by the way Houston has zero zoning laws.

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  • Tracy
    09/01/2017
    ···

    I hope this awful situation wakes up some of the people who have the ability to change the regulations (Pruitt for one). Safety measures should have been in place. Regulations are necessary! People are going to have health issues and die from this. There is no such thing as a safe level of toxin. Yet we have politicians and even fellow citizens who want to take away healthcare from the people who need it! Start by implementing harder regulations on companies to protect people from their harmful chemicals. Stop allowing money and corporate lobbyists from influencing your vote. This planet belongs to everyone and it is everyone's job to protect it.

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  • VSB
    09/01/2017
    ···

    This is why we need the EPA. We need accurate assessments of the danger this tyoe if situation poses to our air, water and land.

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  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    09/01/2017
    ···

    This issue may not have been an issue if Republicans did not accept millions of dollars in unethical contributions and work for the Corporations to deregulate the industry and make sure that EPA regulations under the Obama administration would not go into affect. The Congress members who have accepted these bribes should be held accountable, alongside the Corporate executives and each should be responsible to pay for any and all negative health impacts to citizens. They should also be responsible for the costs associated with the evacuation and even loss of work compensation if these residents cannot return to their work due to the unethical behavior of the Congress and the Corporations. The current head of the EPA should also be held responsible. Taxpayers should not have to pay for anything and should be reimbursed for the cost of first responders to coordinate the evacuation efforts. It's time that corruption is stopped and it's time that the people should not have to pay for Corporate greed and the costs associated with their unethical practices. This would be a good time to make examples of politicians who participate and facilitate these unethical behaviors and acts.

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  • Lesia
    09/02/2017
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    This is the result of deregulation. Unbridled greed at any cost, to include human lives.

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  • Eileen
    09/01/2017
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    And boy what a good idea Texas had! Don't tell anyone what kind of chemicals are nearby, whether schools are built near the chemical plants, no safety rules! Boy, I can't wait to live there! NOT! Seriously, safely regulations are for safety sake you morons!

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  • Eileen
    09/04/2017
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    STOP THE MANIC Destruction of safety regulation designed to line the pockets if the rich and destroy the health of American citizens. STOP THE GOP WAR ON THE AMERICAN PEOPLE!!!!

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  • Jeanne
    09/01/2017
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    No one should be stupid enough to believe anything out of the current EPA. It is a polluter dream come true. A completely inept EPA with a incompetent leadership. Of course the pollution is toxic and the people who live in the area will be the only ones to pay. We need stronger laws to protect people from corrupt companies.

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  • Linda
    08/31/2017
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    This is the reason there are industrial regulations. Fining is not enough. Violations must be corrected within 30 days. Safety may cost but that should be a routine business expense. These types facilities should not be built in populated areas. Demand strengthening safety regulations instead of rescinding.

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  • Ticktock
    09/01/2017
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    The chemical industry knows how dangerous these chemical are and they knowingly measure handling methods against costs to the corporations and profits. The fines that are levied often are more affordable than the safety issues involve. Cost to these companies do not include the effects on neighbors, employees, or environment unless there are laws and regulations to enforce compliance. Of course these laws and regulations must be enforced. In Trump's America that is no guarantee that any enforcement will occur. Protection of the public totally depends on where you fall on the wealth scale.

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  • Marylynn
    09/01/2017
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    The EPA is a joke... This will be another "Silkwood" case where they'll tell everyone that the toxins are at acceptable levels. I'm sure that the class actions lawyers will be coming out of the woodwork to file class actions suits against these companies, rightfully so. How many people will have life threatening illnesses because of these chemicals that are spewing out of the failed plants.

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  • Deirdre
    09/01/2017
    ···

    Safety measures should have been in place already. Now people are going to have health issues and die from this. There is no such thing as a safe level of toxin. We need to change the way we handle these disasters. Implementing harder regulations on companies to protect people from their harmful chemicals. We need to green and start using environmental friendly ways of doing things.

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  • Linda
    09/01/2017
    ···

    This is a perfect example of the function of the EPA. Industry safety must be regulated. Requiring it be kept in a safe and standardized manner should not require regulations. Sadly, shortcuts in maintenance are often the norm. Therefore, safety regulations are a requirement to ensure the business not only pays any outstanding fines, but corrects the defects for the good of the company, its employees, & the community. Location must also be considered in building. Industry which is dangerous to life and the environment should not be constructed in an area where flooding, hurricanes, or other natural disasters may occur.

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  • Grassroots
    09/01/2017
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    When industry refuses to police itself, government has a duty to the people to step in and crack down on illegal activities, like dumping pollutants into rivers and oceans or emitting toxic elements into the air, to name a few. The EPA is charged with the critical duty to keep America's citizens safe from big industry's attempts to bypass the laws. Weakening and/or eliminating that oversight is a dangerous affront to you and me and the rest of America.

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