Safety Questions After Two Chemical Plant Explosions in One Week

First it was the SunEdison explosion in Pasadena. Now its the Schutz Container Systems fire in the same city.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 8, 2015 11:59 am, ,

Two firefighters in Pasadena, Texas had to be admitted to the hospital last night after responding to a chemical plant explosion. According to the local fire marshal, the blaze started around 8 p.m. at Schutz Container Systems.

It comes not even a week after the SunEdison accident that sent four workers to the hospital with chemical burns.

Mark Collette speaks with the Standard about the recent incidents. He covers the industry for the Houston Chronicle. He says information from the incident is still preliminary.

“It looks like the fire broke out at 8 p.m. last night,” Collette says. “Schutz cleans tanks in the chemical industry, so they bring in a lot of tanks, a lot of different materials, and apparently there was some type of flash fire while workers were cleaning one of these containers.”

A couple of firefighters went in, breathed some of the chemical fumes and that’s what sent them to the hospital, he says.

Are people asking questions there in Pasadena? Is there some sense that something is changing?

“I think that we certainly have had our fair share of incidents in the Houston area over the past year…. I think there’s a tendency in Texas to think, well we’re living alongside one of the biggest industrial chemical complexes in the world, we’re gonna have accidents from time to time. But any of these accidents that we’ve reported on – we have yet to see one that could not have been prevented with better controls, just following the process safety rules that are already on the books.”

Do federal safety investigators not have the ability to keep plants closed after you have an incident like this?

“The U.S Chemical Safety Board … they only have the authority to investigate cause and make recommendations for changes. They cannot actually force anyone to do anything. But their recommendations are usually taken very seriously. OSHA can come in and fine these companies but they also don’t have the authority to come in and shut things down…. It’s really up to these complexes to determine when they’re ready to go.”