Houston-Area chemical plant fire leaves one dead, two wounded

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Houston – An explosion at the KMCO plant around 11 a.m. Tuesday morning was caused by a colorless flammable gas isobutylene, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Due to the eruption at the plant, one person is dead and two others are injured, said officials.

Authorities have asked everyone within a mile radius of the KMCO plant to find shelter elsewhere. Around 3 p.m. the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office instructed residents to close any and all windows, doors as well as turn off air-conditioning units.

Shortly an hour later, around 4 p.m. Harris County emergency management office announced that the fire had been contained and crews were working to stop the flames from reaching the nearby chemical tanks. There had been a “no-fly” zone one mile surrounding the plant as a precaution.

All the students at the nearby Sheldon Independent School District campuses were not initially allowed to leave school buildings, according to the district. During a midday press conference, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez stated that officials were working with the district “to make sure that we can get those children into their parents’ arms and get them back home as quickly as possible.”

The two victims who sustained injuries were airlifted to receive treatment, the other victim was expired at the scene, according to Sheriff Gonzalez. Gonzalez also posted on Twitter that the tank transfer line had ignited in the area of the take of isobutylene “and the tank caught on fire. An adjacent storage building with solid goods also caught fire.”

In recent years the EPA found the KMCO plant had several compliance violations. A report from the EPA dated last year stated violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which stated the management of hazardous materials and non-hazardous solid waste.

Inspections also showed that KMOC had violations in regard to the Clean Water and Clean Air acts.

In 2008, Harris County sued KMCO for discharging wastewater that exceeded limits on certain pollutants. KMCO settled with the county in 2009, agreeing to pay $50,000 in civil penalties for violating the state’s environmental regulations, according to court documents. They also agreed to pay attorney fees and provide $75,000 to a supplemental environmental project.

Harris County filed another lawsuit against KMCO in 2017 for the plant’s failure of noncompliance with the state’s environmental regulations. That court case is still pending and is scheduled for trial in June of 2019.

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