More Problems at BP Texas City Refinery

The BP Texas City Refinery is facing heat again, this time over an alleged chemical leak and a separate incident that burned two workers last week. The BP Texas City Refinery was the site of a 40-day chemical release earlier this year, and in 2005, a blast at the refinery killed 15 workers.

According to The Houston Chronicle, a local attorney has alleged that a recent leak of hydrocarbons from the refinery’s Pipestill 3A unit poses an “extreme hazard” to people inside and outside the plant. Citing clients at the refinery, the lawyer asserted that the leak grew during the week and is now apparent to the naked eye, not just to monitoring equipment. The attorney is threatening to petition the court today if BP doesn’t shut down the unit.

BP has not explicitly denied the charge, the Chronicle said, but has suggested that whatever is happening at the refinery is not the attorney’s business. A BP spokesperson said the company has advised regulatory agencies about the status of the equipment involved in the allegations.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it is looking into the situation.

Meanwhile, two workers suffered serious steam burns last week when working on the refinery’s Pipestill 3B unit. The Galveston County Daily Sun reported on its website that one worker was flown to UTMB Hospital’s Burn Unit in Galveston, with burns of over 30 percent. The other worker was driven by ambulance to Mainland Medical Center in Texas City.

No further details on what happened to cause the workers’ injuries have been released, but BP said it is investigating the incident. No evacuations were ordered because of the accident. The day after the incident, the facility was put on a safety standdown. Safety standdowns are extensive safety reviews that follow serious injury incidents at the refinery.

The BP Texas City Refinery has had a long history of safety problems, some of which have resulted in serious injuries and deaths among workers at the plant. Earlier this summer it was learned that a release of chemicals from the plant allowed 17,000 lbs of benzene – a known carcinogen – to leak into the air over a 40-day period between April and May. The incident began on April 6, when BP said a fire compromised a seal on an ultracracker’s hydrogen compressor. The malfunction forced the company to flare off gases. As it worked to fix the unit over the next 40 days, the plant released 538,000 pounds of pollutants into the air, BP told regulators.

BP reported the incident to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality the day after it happened. But information about the release wasn’t made public until BP submitted a final incident report to regulators June 4. Since the incident, people in the area have reportedly complained of allergic reactions, sinus infections, headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms consistent with benzene exposure.

The facility was also the site of the worst US refinery accident in the past five years when 15 workers were killed and 180 others injured in an explosion. In 2010, BP paid a $50.6 million fine to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to settle worker safety violations stemming from the March 23, 2005 blast.

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