Houston, Texas: The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office (HCFMO) says the fire at a Crosby chemical facility has been extinguished. HCFMO investigators are on scene conducting interviews and investigating the exact point of origin and what caused the fire. Crosby is about 25 miles northeast of Houston.
The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating what caused the fire. KMCO says isobutylene caused the initial ignition and the fire was further fueled by ethanol and ethyl acrylate.
The plant is owned by the company KMCO and it’s located in the 16500 block of Ramsey Road.
A shelter in place order for a one-mile radius around the facility has been lifted.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez confirmed during a news conference that one person died at the scene. Two other people were severely injured and have been taken by Life Flight helicopters to Memorial Hermann Hospital. They are in critical condition, according to the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office (HCFMO). The Crosby Fire Department is leading the response to the incident, along with the offices of the fire marshal and sheriff.
Gonzalez and HCFMO Spokeswoman Rachel Moreno said the fire seems to have started when a transfer line ignited close to a tank containing isobutylene, a flammable colorless gas used in the production of high octane gasoline. An adjacent storage building with solid combustible goods also caught fire, according to the sheriff. KMCO said ethanol and ethyl acrylate further fueled the fire.
Moreno said the Fire Marshal’s Office was notified about the incident around 11 a.m. and sent hazmat crews and inspectors to the scene. The agency is investigating what chemicals are in the facility. Company officials are cooperating with the investigation and are working to provide details of the types of chemicals stored at the site.
Gonzalez said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been on the ground and in the air, and there had been no actionable air pollution detections by the time of this update. Harris County pollution experts are also monitoring air quality. Additionally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has dispatched emergency response personnel to conduct an initial assessment of the fire.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement that the county’s public health department is also monitoring the situation. She added that there are no indications of an immediate health risk to the areas surrounding the facility.
KMCO President & CEO John Foley said in a statement that the company activated its emergency response team and incident command center when the incident occurred. He also extended his sympathies to the victims and their families. Later, at a news conference held shortly after 5 p.m., Foley said the company will also conduct an investigation of the incident.
Several school districts in the area, including Crosby, Sheldon and Channelview, established shelter in place status during the first hours of the incident.
KMCO has had environmental violations in the past.
In 2016, KMCO’s corporate agents pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge of violating the Clean Air Act. A plea agreement document stated that a plant employee made false entries in logs of air testing of tanks that were known to be leaking chemicals. Another employee then used those falsified logs to submit reports to federal and state environmental authorities. The document says the violation went on between 2008 and 2012.
A year earlier, the EPA cited KMCO for failing to comply with regulations on its risk-management plan for the plant, but settled with the plant for a $2,700 penalty.
Texas has served the plant with three notices of violation of a federal clean-air law since last August, the EPA website shows.
The fire erupted about two weeks after a March 17 blaze at a petrochemical storage facility in Deer Park, located about 20 miles south of Crosby. That fire at a facility owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company burned for days and triggered air quality warnings.
Crosby also is where the Arkema chemical plant was inundated by water during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Some chemicals eventually caught fire and partially exploded.
“It is disturbing and it is problematic that we’re seeing this incident in a facility, especially on the heels of” the fire in Deer Park, Hidalgo said at the news conference with the sheriff.
The county judge noted in her statement that the Commissioners Court has approved conducting a risk assessment of refinery and chemical plant operators and contractors, and supports expanding the county’s air monitoring capacity.