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.