Channelview TX Petrochemical Plant Explosion, Jul 1990

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Houston, July 6 - A fiery explosion at a petrochemical plant near the Houston Ship Canal killed 17 workers and injured five others the authorities said today.
The blast, which occurred about 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, shot flames into the sky and rocked houses miles away. Fire burned at the plant for more than four hours before it was extinguished.
The accident did not cause any leakage of dangerous materials, said officials of the ARCO Chemical Company, which owns and operates the plant. No evacuations of nearby communities were ordered.
The chemical company and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have announced investigations into the causes of the accident.
The ARCO plant is in Channelview, a small industrial suburb 20 miles east of downtown Houston. It is one of the many communities along the ship channel and Galveston Bay where wooded neighborhoods coexist with huge petrochemical complexes.
The plant is the nation's largest producer of an additive that ARCO, Shell, Exxon and several other companies have blended with their gasoline to reduce toxic emissions. ARCO is a publicly traded subsidiary of the Atlantic Richfield Company.
The explosion occurred in a utility area set apart from the main production operations of the 514 acre plant, said J.J. Goldman, an ARCO spokeswoman. A treatment tank that normally contains 900,000 gallons of wastewater and chemicals apparently blew up while routine maintenance was taking place around it, Ms. Goldman said.
She said five of the dead were ARCO workers; 11 were employees of the contractor performing the maintenance work, Austin Industrial Inc., of Houston, and one was a truck driver. Five other workers suffered minor injuries, and no other workers are missing, she said.
The head of OSHA, Assistant Labor Secretary Gerald F. Scannell, toured the plant this afternoon.
He said OSHA inspectors would interview supervisors and examine work orders to determine whether the maintenance work contributed to the blast. He said he had been told by ARCO officials that maintenance was being performed on a compressor and other pieces of equipment at the time of the explosion.
He said the treatment plant where the blast took place collected wastewater that had mixed with hydrocarbons and processed it to prevent emissions into the atmosphere.
Last April, Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole sent a report to President Bush on accidents at petrochemical plants, which called on the industry to develop new safety plans. Among other measures recommended was special safety training for contract employees like those who were performing maintenance work at the ARCO plant.