The ExxonMobil complex in Baytown, Texas caught fire on Wednesday after a petrochemical unit allegedly burst open. The residents were warned to stay at home at 11:35 a.m. This was done because the fire had broken out in a zone containing polypropylene material. It’s a thermoplastic polymer used in numerous common objects such as elastic tubing or a laboratory kit. The products on fire were propane & propylene blend.
Gigantic blazes and trails of smoke were coming out of the Baytown Olefins plant. This facility is used for changing natural gas into plastic. The company has claimed on its website that it is one of the world’s largest ethylene plants. 37 have been reportedly injured in the accident. Harris County Emergency Management’s statement stated- 66 ExxonMobil employees plus contractors have been transported to the Houston Area Safety Council for a medical check-up. The management hasn’t stated any explanation on why the fire broke in the first place.
Some of the workers have been giving their version to the newspapers. One of them, Freddie Landry, said that he was next to the plant when the fire broke. “The crane guys were moving pipe for me so we can proceed and finish our job. I heard a big boom. The crane went up, and the guys said it exploded. No hesitation. We all turned around and took off,” he said.
ExxonMobil has published a statement on twitter stating industrial hygiene staff are “conducting air quality monitoring” at the site. A spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said it has sent specialists at 11:30 a.m. to conduct handheld air monitoring. They mentioned, ‘the team is constantly assessing the data from these monitors to asses any potential regional air quality impacts.’ They have asked residents to stay indoors, close doors and windows, and shut off any air conditioning units as it is still not clear how much the fire has affected the air they are breathing.
ExxonMobil is the city’s largest employer. They claimed that they have been developing technologies that will allow it to operate more safely and reliably. But this fire is not the only one accident that has occurred at the complex. In March, a similar accident had occurred. A division treating motor gasoline had caught fire. The area was filled with poisonous smoke. Also the city had allotted another shelter-in-place in 2016 when a pipeline started dripping an extremely ignitable gas termed dilute propylene. Many such emissions episodes have been reported since 2012.
The company was fined by a U.S. district court in 2017. They had to pay $20 million dollars for violating the Clean Air Act 16. Not once, but 386 times between October 2005 and September 2013. ExxonMobil plant leaked a probable 10 million pounds of chemicals into the air. A fire at a petrochemical storage site burned for several days in March.
Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo, and the Office of Emergency Management stated in a joint statement that “Harris County Pollution Control is responding to the fire at the Exxon refinery in Baytown and will be collecting real-time air-quality information.” A proper oil refining course is now being recommended to the employees of the plant.
ExxonMobil event is the newest in a mounting list of fossil fuel-related accidents in the U.S. this year alone. The East Coast particularly saw numerous refinery eruptions, including one in June at the largest filtering compound on the Eastern coastline.