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Community Safety Concerns Rise After Fatal KMCO Crosby Chemical Plant Explosion, Fire

Apr 2, 2019

A major explosion and fire at a chemical plant in Crosby, TX has killed at least one victim and critically injured two others. Residents within a mile of the plant were also ordered to shelter in place.

According to the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, the incident took place at KMCO, a chemical processing and manufacturing facility located at 16503 Ramsey Road in East Harris County shortly before 11:00 am Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

Because the plant contains hazardous chemicals, Harris County temporarily closed a number of public facilities and parks in Crosby, and ordered all residents within a 1-mile radius of the plant to shelter in place. Local school districts, including the Crosby and Sheldon Independent School District, also sheltered students following the blast. Many schools and residents turned off their HVAC systems.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office has since contained the fire, and prevented it from spreading to other nearby chemical storage tanks. At approximately 3:15 pm, nearly four and a half hours after the blast, Harris County FMO lifted the shelter in place.

Chemical Plant Fire Sparks Concern About Exposure, Risks

Though investigations are still ongoing, preliminary reports suggest the fire started when a transfer line ignited in a tank containing Isobutylene, a colorless, highly flammable gas. A nearby storage building containing solid materials also caught fire.

Residents near the plant report hearing and feeling the massive explosion, as well as their concerns as dark plumes of smoke continued to billow out of the facility. Though the fire has been contained and the shelter-in-place lifted, there is much to be done to determine what happened, what risks residents may face, and whether any regulatory violations were to blame. Investigations and clean-up efforts by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA will shed light on these questions.

Here’s what we know now:

  • Victims – The three victims in this incident, one of whom was pronounced dead at the scene, are believed to be KMCO employees. Contractors near the explosion site reportedly heard a problem had occurred in the control room.
  • Residents concerned – Local residents have been expressing concerns about air quality and overall safety in their communities, particularly in light of Harris County’s track record with major plant and industrial facility explosions, a fire at a Deer Park chemical plant just 16 days before, and train fire at the KMCO plant just 4 days after that. The blast, described by some as something like a “sonic boom,” and fears over risks of exposure are making more Texans question whether the companies in their cities are doing enough to protect the public.
  • What KMCO does – KMCO is owned by ORG Chemical Holdings, one of the world’s largest chemical corporations. With plants in Crosby and Port Arthur, KMCO employs nearly 200 full-time employees, and produces more than 900 million pounds of manufacturing products per year, including specialty chemicals for products such as brake fluid and antifreeze.
  • KMCO’s record of violations – KMCO has a history of violating various environmental regulations. In 2016, KMCO was criminally convicted on 2 counts of violating the federal Clean Air Act, and was ordered to pay over $3 million in criminal fines. It’s been in violation of the Clean Water Act for 7 of the past 12 years and since 1995, has been fined nearly a dozen times by the TX Commission on Environmental Quality for violations that include failures to comply with emissions rate standards, failure to conduct stack tests, and discharging hazardous waste. It also has a number of OSHA violations, according to the Houston Chronicle.

A Tragic Loss. A Powerful Reminder.

Tuesday’s horrific explosion and fire struck fear in numerous Crosby residents and other Texans who live in and near communities with major chemical and industrial facilities. It was also a terrible tragedy for the victims and families involved – to whom our team at Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC sends our deepest condolences.

Catastrophes like these are a sobering reminder of why there are regulations in place – whether they concern the storage, handling, and transportation of hazardous materials, or the responsibilities of corporations to take appropriate steps to protect workers and local communities. Because facilities like the KMCO plant pose a high potential for harm, they must be held to high standards. When they fail to meet those standards, they need to be held accountable.

As the investigation unfolds, our team at BCH will continue to follow updates and official reports. Our firm has extensive experience with cases involving refinery explosions, industrial accidents, chemical exposure, and serious injuries and wrongful death. We’re available to help anyone with questions.

If you would like to speak with a member of our legal team, call (888) 367-7160 or contact us online.

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