One worker has been killed and two injured in an explosion and fire at the KMCO chemical plant in Crosby, Texas Tuesday morning. The dead worker had been transported in critical condition to a Houston hospital, and the other two are said to be in critical condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. The types of injuries suffered by the victims is unknown at this time. According to Bloomberg.com, KMCO
"… provides specialty chemical manufacturing, and custom and toll chemicals processing products and services for chemical companies worldwide."
Local media reports that the Crosby, Sheldon and Channelview ISD have issued a shelter-in-place orders. There is also a shelter-in-place order for a one mile radius of the fire.
The cause of the explosion and fire is unknown. However, a representative from the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff's Office stated that a Hazmat team is on site and monitoring the situation. It is assumed that representatives from the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) are en route and that the CSB will take charge of the investigation.
The fire is reported to have started in a warehouse and then spread to adjacent storage tanks. The chemicals that are burning is not known, but KMCO is known to store large amounts of ethylene oxide, a chemical that is used primarily as an intermediate in the production of substances such as ethylene glycol (antifreeze) and to sterilize medical supplies that cannot be exposed to steam sterilization. Early reports indicate that the fire began with a leak of isobutylene, a gas with a relatively low flash point and a high risk of explosion. Both chemicals are considered to be toxins and, by chronic exposure, are carcinogens (capable of causing cancer).
According to workers who were in the plant at the time of the explosion, when the fire/evacuation warning was sounded, workers were unable to leave the plant because of locked gates. The workers were forced to either crawl under fences or use the available tools to cut through the locks.
Local sources report that KMCO has a long history with OSHA over safety issues. The company was also sued by Harris County (TX) over chemical spills and fumes that were causing headaches among those living near the plant.
Potential Negligence Surrounding the ExplosionThe early reports from workers who were present at the time of the fire/explosion are disturbing in that the workers were forced to cut through locked gates or crawl under fences seems to indicate that there was no effective evacuation plan. Given the company's history of safety issues that came to the attention of OSHA, KMCO may have been negligent in its emergency response planning. While these are certainly preliminary in nature, at The Doan Law Firm we feel that the whole story has yet to emerge.
We will continue to monitor this situation and will post updates as they develop.