Chemical plant fire sites ITC and KMCO both have a history of violations
Written by Brian Beckcom
Over the past three weeks the Houston area has seen two separate chemical plant fires that are impacting plant workers, area residents, and local businesses. The most recent occurred around 10:55 a.m. on April 2, 2019, when a fire broke out at the KMCO plant in Crosby off Crosby Freeway at 16503 Ramsey Road.
One plant worker has died and Life Flight transported two people to the hospital due to injuries. Officials issued a shelter-in-place for all residents and businesses within a one-mile radius of the blaze. It was later lifted around 2:00 p.m. Initial reports show that the fire began after a chemical called Isobutyleneignited. As of 4:50 p.m., the fire was reportedly contained.
This fire happened merely 16 days after a chemical fire in Deer Park raged for more than 60 hours and cast a plume of dark smoke over most of the Houston area. On March 17, 2019, a fire occurred at Intercontinental Terminals Company, a storage facility for petrochemicals. The fire burned for several days, during which time an unknown volume of hazardous chemicals were cast into the air and nearby waterways.
KMCO has a long history of environmental and safety violations
Similar to Intercontinental Terminals Company, KMCO has a history of environmental and safety issues as well. The company received fines of nearly $400,000 by state and U.S. regulators. $250,000 of these fines came from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
KMCO has not been compliant with the federal Clean Water Act. In the last 12 quarters it violated the act three times. Information gained from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that the facility also violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This act regulates how the facilities handle hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.
In the past nine years, the plant has received dozens of OSHA violations.
2008– Harris County sued the KMCO plant for spills and fumes that gave headaches to local neighbors. In a permanent injunction, KMCO had to pay $10,000 in civil penalties and give investigators easy access to the facility and prompt notification of releases.
December 24, 2010– Three employees went to the hospital on Christmas Eve after a runaway reaction caused an explosion and fire. The company received fines over $65,000 for 15 serious violations, including safety management of highly hazardous chemicals, hazardous waste and emergency response and control of hazardous energy.
2010-2013– KMCO received 66 violations at its Crosby plant.
2016– KMCO was criminally convicted of two counts of knowingly violating the Clean Air Act, according to federal records. Both KMCO and its sister companies had to pay a total of $3.5 million in criminal fines. The case determined that the companies failed to monitor leaks of ground-level ozone (smog) producing air pollutants at its chemical processing facility in Crosby, Texas.
2019– Just 4 days after the ITC fire in Deer Park, a train located at KMCO’s facility caught fire, which took over an hour for firefighters to extinguish.
ITC has its share of violations as well
Since 2009, ITC has paid more than $38,000 in fines for environmental infractions.
2003-2019– ITC has had at least 39 unauthorized air releases. They have been noncompliant with the Clean Air Act for nine of the past 12 quarters. One incidence involved the 2016 cyanide release into the San Jacinto River basin that was 10 times the legal limit.
2009-2019– The company has paid more than $38,000 in fines for environmental infractions. In 2008 ITC received a fine when a relief valve blew off a tank releasing a hazardous air pollutant, butadiene, into the atmosphere. This was due to a failure to prevent an increase in pressure.
2009– ITC was given a fine for failing to prevent the overloading of a railcar resulting in the unauthorized release of 1,452 pounds of toluene, a hazardous air pollutant, during a four-hour emissions event. This was due to an operator error.
Lawsuits have already been filed against ITC
Both the state of Texas and Harris County have filed lawsuits against ITC for environmental violations. Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit on March 22, 2019. The lawsuit alleges that the fire released air pollution in violation of the Texas Clean Air Act. It also mentions ITC’s previous history of environmental violations. Harris County filed a lawsuit against Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) and is seeking a temporary injunction and restraining order against the company, alleging that it violated the Texas Clean Air Act and the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act, among others.
The County Attorney charges that ITC is responsible for burning and air emissions in violation of the state’s Clean Air Act, discharging industrial waste into nearby waters in violation of state law and county regulations, and violation of county floodplain regulations by not having development permits for structures at its facility.
“This company put the health of Harris County residents in danger in many ways for several days,” said County Attorney Ryan. “We will hold them responsible for their actions.”
Companies must be held accountable for injuries and deaths because of their negligence