Baytown ExxonMobil Chemical Plant Hit by Explosion, Fire
A fire at the ExxonMobil Olefins Plant in Baytown, Texas, has led to an evacuation of workers from the facility and a “precautionary shelter-in-place” order affecting areas adjacent to the facility. The fire, which appears to involve a single “tower” at the plant, is producing a cloud of thick black smoke that is being dispersed by light winds after rising several hundred feet into the air.
According to local emergency responders, the fire began shortly after 11:00 a.m. local time and was preceded by a loud explosion. Both ExxonMobil and local officials are reporting that as many as 30 plant workers have been treated at the scene for minor injuries and that all workers known to have been present when the explosion/fire occurred have been accounted for. Currently, plant officials and local fire departments are planning to isolate the fire and then allow it to burn itself out.
ExxonMobil’s website describes its Baytown facility as a group of five plants that process crude oil and other raw materials into “consumables” such as gasoline and other fuels, plastics, and synthetic materials that are used by other manufacturers. The tower involved in today’s plant fire is reported to be part of the “chain” that leads to the end-products of polypropylene, a lightweight but durable plastic used in many consumer products.
Today’s fire is fourth chemical plant incident this year
Today’s explosion and fire at the ExxonMobil facility is only the most recent incident involving a chemical processing plant in the Greater Houston area. In fact, there have been three other major incidents so far in 2019 where a chemical plant accident has led to worker injuries or deaths:
- On March 17th, a fire at the Intercontinental Terminal Company (ITC) in Deer Park produced clouds of dense smoke over the area before the fire was extinguished several days later. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries and local environmental monitoring agencies reported so significant chemical releases into the atmosphere.
- Within hours of the fire at ITC, an unrelated fire broke out at the same ExxonMobil plant involved in today’s fire. That fire was quickly contained and extinguished within a few hours, and no significant environmental contamination was reported. There were no reports of injuries in this incident.
- On April 3rd, an explosion and fire at the KMCO plant in Crosby, Texas, killed one worker and critically injured two others. KMCO had been the target of numerous regulatory and environmental complaints in the past and is currently involved in a series of lawsuits involving state environmental regulator.
Due to the complexity of conducting comprehensive investigations into chemical plant explosions and/or fires, final reports regarding the causes of these incidents are not yet available.
Chemical plants and the risks of explosions
By the nature of their functions, as well as the laws of chemistry and physics, refineries and chemical plants are inherently dangerous places simply because they work with potentially toxic substances that are processed by using high temperature and/or pressure in order to produce other materials that are essential to our modern lifestyle. Unless chemical plants are properly constructed, and then carefully maintained, they will be at risk for an explosion or fire.
When explosions or fires occur at plants and refineries, the causes of these potential disasters will frequently be traced to:
Failure of control systems
Modern chemical plants rely on a complex collection of computer-controlled sensors, pumps, and mixers to safely complete their tasks. A failure at any point in the manufacturing process can quickly lead to an unstable chemical process resulting in an explosion or fire.
Improper storage of raw materials
Many precursor (“building block”) substances are themselves unstable and must be stored under conditions that leave little room for error. If these requirements are not met, there will be a risk of an uncontrolled chemical reaction that could lead to a fire or explosion.
At the heart of every industrial accident is some degree of human error. If employees are not properly trained for their primary job function or in procedures for dealing with emergency operations, a minor incident can quickly turn into a major accident that affects not only the plant itself but entire local communities as well.
At The Doan Law Firm, our refinery and industrial plant accident injury lawyer will be monitoring future developments in the ExxonMobil Baytown Olefins Plant fire and will post updates as they become available.
In the interim, if you or a family member have been injured in an industrial accident, we invite you to contact the refinery and industrial accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a national personal injury law practice with offices located throughout the country.
When you contact our firm, your case review and first consultation with our drowning and aquatic accident injury lawyer is always free and does not obligate you hiring us to act as your legal counsel. Should you decide to file a lawsuit against those responsible for your injuries or other losses, and that you would like to have us represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.