In the aftermath, theTexas Commission on Environmental Quality(TCEQ)suedthe facility, alleging violations of clean air and water laws throughout 2018 and 2019. TheUnited States Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administrationalso cited the company for exposing employees to workplace safety and health hazards and fined TPC $514,692. Some residents also filed suits against the company, arguing that their health was harmed from significant amounts of hazardous compounds released from the facility.
Chemical Plant Explosion
The explosion occurred in TPC's south unit at its Port Neches facility, which utilizes 1,3-butadiene, a highly flammable and highly reactive liquid used in the production of synthetic rubbers and resins that has been classified as carcinogenic to humans via inhalation.1,3-butadiene reacts readily in the presence of oxygen, sometimes forming a butadiene peroxide that can concentrate and eventually initiate a fire or explosion, and also sometimes forming "popcorn" polymers (resinous deposits that resemble popcorn) that can grow exponentially and cause equipment to rupture. The processing unit involved in the explosion had developed popcorn polymers in the past.
In the early hours of November 27, aloss of containment eventoccurred at the facility and 6,000 gallons of primarily liquid butadiene emptied from a fractionator (distillation tower), vaporizing in less than a minute and forming a cloud. Three workers present in the facility indicated that a pipe ruptured, at which point they evacuated quickly, escaping with minor injuries. The location of the initial release was not visually confirmed because the equipment was so heavily damaged.
Within 2 minutes of the initial chemical release, at 12:56 a.m., the vapor cloud ignited and exploded, creating a wave of pressure that damaged numerous buildings around the site and sent debris flying miles away. Two further explosions occurred, one at 2:40 a.m. and another at 1:48 p.m., when one of the facility's towers was propelled into the air. Flammable process equipment continued to leak after the explosion, allowing fires to burn for over a month after the initial blast.
Shortly after the first explosion, authorities in Jefferson County issued an evacuation order for all homes and businesses located within a half-mile radius of the TPC plant. On Wednesday, December 4, the Port Neches Fire Chief issued a shelter-in-place order for the City of Port Neches “out of an abundance of caution.” Later that evening, at 10:00 p.m., the Jefferson County Judge issued a voluntary evacuation order for the City of Port Neches. The next day, on Thursday, December 5, 2019, the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management said that the shelter-in-place and voluntary evacuation orders were lifted due to improved conditions. Schools did not reopen until December 3, 2019, because officials needed additional time to clean debris, complete structural inspections, and repair school buildings. After returning to school for two days, the schools were closed again, ultimately reopening on December 9.
This back and forth left some residents scared and confused, unsure of air quality as well as whether or not further explosions could propel more debris off-site.Leaks of butadienecontinued for more than a month, and oil and petrochemicals washed from the site during firefighting efforts ended up in canals leading to the Neches River.
According to theU.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board's report, ongoing issues with popcorn polymer formation at the TPC group facility prior to the explosion were a probable cause. The south unit had documented problems with popcorn polymers throughout 2019, and the final fractionator A to B transfer pump (that workers observed rupturing) was out of service at the time of the incident. A piping segment that is open to the process but does not have flow through it is known in the industry as a dead leg, which promotes popcorn polymer formation.
TPC group had a long record ofClean Air Act在2019年11月之前的爆炸前违反了港口Neches工厂，达到二十年。自2000年以来，他们总共支付了约150万美元，共计27次违反了一项联邦法律，其中来自EPA的24个引文，主要用于释放诸如丁二烯等水平的危险化学物质，超过人类健康。TPC已支付的150万美元包括在爆炸后的OSHA罚款额约为500,000美元，这意味着在事件发生前20年的违规的24次违反环境法的每一个，该公司的罚款平均约为40,000美元。金融分析师称，TPC集团估计的年收入目前超过2.2亿美元。环境团体和倡导者认为EPA在德克萨斯州的执法记录大部分牙齿，因为罚款最终不会影响污染的企业的底线。
Once the TCP explosion occurred, the fourth chemical plant explosion in Texas during 2019, pressure mounted on public officials to hold companies accountable and institute larger fines, or revoke operational permits to repeat offenders that don't address violations. In February 2020, Texas's attorney general filed suit on behalf of TCEQ after the agency's three appointed commissioners rejected staff-recommended penalties for TPC for eight pollution violations from 2018. The recommended penalties weren’t strong enough for incidents that investigators had found to be preventable. Environmental groups see the lawsuit as a positive development, but remain skeptical as to how harshly TCP will ultimately be treated given the state's record of allowing repeat offenders to continue polluting.
In the aftermath of the explosion, air monitoring found 240 butadiene air detections above actionable level and 11 VOC检测高于可操作的水平。短期暴露于丁二烯导致眼睛，鼻腔通道，喉咙和肺部刺激。流行病学研究报道了丁二烯暴露和心血管疾病之间的可能关联，并且橡胶厂工人的研究表明丁二烯暴露和白血病发病率增加的关系。The impact of VOCs varies depending on the toxicity of specific compounds, but they have also caused negative health impacts to humans and animals.
Hundreds of people had to be provided with emergency disaster housing immediately after the explosion, and there were 578 properties with observed damage as well as 306 properties with observed debris, some found to contain high levels of asbestos.Accor ding to TCP, the company has settled more than 5,000 claims related to impacted homes and has reimbursed over 18,800 residents for evacuation expenses. An insurance firm estimated the cost of damage associated with the incident to be $500 million.
爆炸的另一个重大环境影响来自现场运河流入附近的宁静河，因为消防员们才能灭火。据Aninvestigation by the Beaumont Enterpriseusing documents requested from Jefferson County, nearly 10,000 booms and dozens of pumps worked to stop oil and hazardous chemicals from flowing out of the site, ultimately killing more than 2,000 fish despite the crew's efforts. Runoff from the facility kept water levels in the canals high as oil and chemicals washed into the waterways, and once the water receded, a "bathtub ring" of oil was left behind on the shore that had to be flushed and raked to remove oiled vegetation and debris.
在设施清理has continued through 2021, with a demolition phase recently completed to remove debris, clear streets, and to remove damaged equipment. TCP is now using the site as a terminal to transport hazardous chemicals including butadiene and Crude C4, which is used to extract butadiene, while they evaluate and plan to rebuild.
Explosions at petrochemical facilities in Texas did not stop with TCP. In January 2020, a leaking propylene tank exploded at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing in Houston, killing two people. That explosion led city council officials to strengthen regulations for storing hazardous materials. Regulations haven't changed in Port Neches.
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