HOUSTON, Texas — One refinery employee sustained burn injuries when a unit of Pasadena Refining Systems Inc. (PRSI) in Pasasena, Texas, exploded Saturday, March 5, sending clouds of toxic, black smoke over surrounding neighborhoods.
Authorities have not determined what caused Pasadena Refining Systems’ Hydrogen Desulphurization Unit to explode shortly before 10:15 a.m., but company officials said that the refinery’s emergency response team worked to put out the flames.
Black smoke from the refinery explosion descended on adjoining neighborhoods, prompting the closure of sections of the Houston Ship Channel. The U.S. Coast Guard sent hazmat teams to the area to investigate air and land pollution resulting from the explosion.
Pasadena Refining Systems, already recognized as a big polluter in Houston, has reported 13 air emission events over the past year to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. According to The Pasadena Citizen, those emissions involved “pollutants and toxic chemicals such as benzene and 1,3 butadiene, which are both known to cause cancer.” The emissions resulted in seven regulatory enforcement actions against Pasadena Refining Systems with fines exceeding $565,000.
The Pasadena Citizen also reported that company officials abruptly ended a press conference Saturday afternoon outside the refinery. According to the report, “company officials refused to answer reporters’ questions about the cause of the fire, how many workers were in the area when the fire broke out and the status of PRSI’s Title V Federal Operating Permit, which is currently expired.”
Pasadena Refining Systems, which employs about 500 workers, was investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2014 in response to complaints and safety concerns from employees.
In 2012, OSHA cited the refinery for safety deficiencies involving its handling of highly hazardous chemicals, and in 2011, the OSHA hit the company for safety violations it uncovered while investigating a previous fire at the plant.
Adrian Shelley, executive director for Air Alliance Houston, addressed citizens concerned about Pasadena Refining Systems and its impact on their neighborhoods in a Jan. 28 public hearing held by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“We need better and more advanced monitoring at this facility. We know that PRSI isn’t complying with its emissions standards already and during the permitting process we need to make sure they stay in compliance in the future,” Ms. Shelly said. “Also, the injury rates at this facility are too high. There were 11 lost time injuries in 2015. That’s a very unusual situation and it’s important to remember the setting. Pasadena is an environmental justice community with many low-income residents where we see lower insurance rates, less access to health care and higher rates of asthma and cancer. This is a community that can ill afford a facility like this in its back yard.”
Source: The Pasadena Citizen