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Tuesday January 21st, 2020 8:49AM

3 injured as Texas plant explosion releases chemical plume

By The Associated Press
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PORT NECHES, Texas (AP) — Three workers were injured early Wednesday in a massive explosion at a Texas chemical plant that also blew out the windows and doors of nearby homes.

Firefighters worked to contain a blaze that erupted after the blast at the TPC Group plant and sent a large plume of smoke stretching for miles.

The three workers who were injured during the blast —two TPC employees and a contractor — have been treated and released from hospitals in Port Arthur and Houston, said Troy Monk, TPC’s director of health, safety and security.

About 30 employees were working at the plant at the time of the explosion and all have been accounted for, according to TPC.

The plant in Port Neches in southeast Texas, about 80 miles east of Houston, makes chemical and petroleum-based products.

Monk said the blast occurred in an area of the plant that makes butadiene, a chemical used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber and other products. He said the plant has 175 full-time employees and 50 contract workers.

Monk said TPC does not know what caused the explosion, but it will form an investigation team to determine what happened.

“We’re staying focused on the safety of our emergency response personnel folks in and around in the community as well as trying to protect the environment,” Monk said at a news conference.

TPC officials know that at least three tanks have been damaged by the blaze, but firefighters have not been able to fully assess damage at the plant as they remain in a defensive position, Monk said.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said at the news conference that he was awakened at his home by the blast, which blew in his front and back doors, “damaging them pretty significantly.”

Jefferson County Emergency Management coordinator Mike White told the Beaumont Enterprise that five residents were being treated for minor injuries, mostly related to shattered glass.

White said state environmental officials are monitoring air quality but that no elevated chemical levels had been detected.

Officials in cities near the plant explosion asked residents to minimize their exposure to the chemical plume by sheltering in place, closing windows and turning off their heating and air conditioning systems.

A mandatory evacuation was ordered for everyone within a half mile of the TPC plant.

Branick told Beaumont TV station KDFM that it’s a miracle that no one died. Branick said one worker suffered burns and was taken by medical helicopter to a Houston hospital. The others had a broken wrist and a broken leg.

Texas has seen multiple petrochemical industry blazes this year, including a March fire that burned for days near Houston and another that killed a worker at a plant in nearby Crosby.

In the March fire, prosecutors filed five water pollution charges against the company that owns the petrochemical storage facility after chemicals flowed into a nearby waterway.

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