Criminal Investigation Launched Following Massive Gas Explosion in Northwest Houston Neighborhood

Criminal Investigation Launched Following Massive Gas Explosion in Northwest Houston Neighborhood

A criminal investigation was launched following a horrific explosion at a Northwest Houston manufacturing plant during the pre-dawn hours of January 24. Terrorism was immediately ruled out, however. Moreover, the owner of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing plant announced on the day of the blast that the explosion occurred in a propylene gas tank. Propylene gas is used in the manufacture of plastic products of different types and for other purposes.

Although early investigation indicates the blast was not intentional, criminal negligence remains a possibility. Two people were killed in the devastating explosion and at least a dozen people were injured, including people in the neighborhood surrounding the industrial plant.

In addition to injuries sustained in the explosion, at least 200 residences in the neighborhood were damaged by the blast. Early reports are that some homes were leveled, others rocked off their foundations, and still more residences experienced other types of serious damage. Beyond the immediate half-mile blast zone, a yet undetermined number of homes and other structures also sustained damage of different types.

The investigation into the cause of the explosion is expected to continue for some time. Investigators from local, state, and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, have been at work since directly after the explosion. Indeed, officials have asked local residents to assist in the process, including an unsettling call for assistance from the Houston Police Chief:

"Do a search around your own home and your own neighborhood, even if you're a mile away from this location," the Police Chief directed. "Look for any debris, any body parts, anything that may be related. If you find anything in your immediate home, in your yard, don't touch it. Just call the Houston Police Department so we can respond."

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Downwind Evacuation Advisory

In the aftermath of the massive industrial plant explosion, local and state emergency officials didn’t issue any type of evacuation order for the vast majority of the blast zone. As noted, there was extensive damage in the area and the propylene gas that caused the explosion continued to spew into the atmosphere. This included a potentially toxic plume of midnight black smoke wafting over the surrounding area for more than several hours.

Initial advisories from emergency officials essentially downplayed the potential risk presented by propylene gas. There is only a minimal amount of research data available to the public at this time regarding what long-term health effects might follow exposure to propylene gas. What is available to emergency officials is a recommendation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, of NOAA, regarded procedures in when propylene gas is released over a neighborhood or city following an incident like the Houston industrial plant explosion.

NOAA reports that an initial downwind evacuation of at last a half-mile should occur following an incident like the manufacturing plant blast. Emergency personnel advised local schools to keep students and staff indoors during the day as much as possible. Beyond that, no warnings regarding sheltering from airborne contaminants, let alone an evacuation of the type described by NOAA, took place.

Reports from a yet specified number of individuals within the half-mile blast zone described breathing issues for which they sought immediate medical attention. At this early date, there is no additional information about what ongoing respiratory or related issues (if any) these individuals might experience going forward. What is also unknown is whether any of the individuals who did not leave the blast zone, people who received no warning to do so, might face in the future. Exposure to substances like propylene gas has been known to cause significant medical issues at a future point in time. In this instance, and as was noted, there is a lack of clarity as to what can happen in the future when people inhale propylene gas over an abnormal period of time.

Legal Advice and Professional Assistance

If you or a loved one was injured as a result of the Houston explosion, or sustained property loss, an industrial accident lawyer from The Doan Law Firm stands ready to assist. You can schedule an appointment with an experienced industrial accident lawyer by calling our hotline at (832) 835-0000. We can schedule a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation and case evaluation with you any time convenient for you.