Chemical Plant Explosion Kills 1, Injures 71

March 28, 2000
One fatality has been confirmed and at least 71 workers were injured in the third major explosion in 11 years at the Phillips' K-Resin plant.

One fatality has been confirmed as a result of an explosion and fire yesterday at Phillips' K-Resin styrene-butadiene copolymer (SBC) plant, located at the company's Houston Chemical Complex (HCC) near Pasadena, Texas.

At least 71 workers were injured in the third major explosion at the factory in the past 11 years.

At a press conference last night, Jim Ross, HCC general manager, said 32 Phillips employees and 39 contract employees were sent to area hospitals. As of this morning, 16 have been released.

Search crews discovered the body of a missing employee five hours after the early afternoon blast. The name of the dead worker was not released.

Reportedly, huge flames erupted after the 1:22 p.m. blast, sending a massive column of black smoke upward and spurring area school officials to seal their buildings and keep children inside as the precaution against the possibility of toxic fumes.

The fire was finally extinguished shortly before 5 p.m. Phillips officials said their monitors found no sign of danger to the public.

An outside environmental contractor found no hazardous airborne contaminants leaving the plant.

All of HCC is being shut down. However, Phillips expects to resume polyethylene and polypropylene production in the next few days.

The cause of the blast -- the fourth at the plant in the past 12 months -- has not yet been determined.

The facility has an infamous safety record.

The K-Resin section is where an explosion killed two workers and injured four others in June 1999, but Phillips officials said Monday that they did not know whether both explosions involved the same reactor. That section contains four reactors.

Phillips was fined $204,000 by OSHA for 13 alleged safety violations following the June explosion.

"We are very closely monitoring this event from a remote location," Ray Skinner of OSHA told The Houston Chronicle. "As soon as it is safe to enter we will."

The Phillips complex also had explosions in April 1999, when a rail car containing polypropylene blew up, and in August, when there was an explosion in the polypropylene section of the plant.

The complex also was the site of a devastating explosion in October 1989 that killed 23 workers and injured about 130.

Approximately 850 Phillips employees and about 100 subcontractors work at the complex.

Officials said about 600 workers were on duty when yesterday's blast occurred.

"I was in the main shop area when I heard a loud explosion," said Tim Williams, a plant worker who estimated he was more than 200 yards away from the explosion. "My ears hurt, and I took off running. I looked back and saw flames, and kept going."

Workers in neighboring plants and residents in the area were urged to remain indoors. Smoke continued to rise two hours after the blast, and was clearly visible across Houston.

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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