Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BP Refinery Long Considered A Health Hazard

Fires, explosions have rocked the plant for many years

The Galveston County Health Department considered British
Petroleum's Texas City refinery safety record so hazardous
it issued a health advisory bulletin for local residents.

In March 2005, a half decade before the disastrous Earth Day
blowout and sinking of Deepwater Horizon off the Louisiana
coast, an explosion in the isomerization unit left 14
workers dead and at least 100 injured.

Authorities closed the Houston Ship Channel and adjacent
roads and declared a health emergency in the area, causing
the 30,000 residents who live in the immediate 3-mile radius
to be ordered to remain indoors until the all-clear was
given several hours later, after the fires had been

The isomerization unit consists primarily of a fluid
catalytic cracking tower which, through distillation, alters
the "straight chain" molecular structure of petroleum,
lightens it, and makes its boiling point much lower in
temperature. It's the first process in making higher octane
motor fuel compounds such as gasoline.

From this process, other, even more toxic compounds are
formed - naptha, benzene, kerosene - that are equally
hazardous to health due to their extreme volatility and
harsh effects on the central nervous and respiratory
systems. Many of these have been determined to be

At 1:20 p.m. on a Wednesday, a safety expansion chamber
overflowed, spilling extremely flammable "feedstock" into a
containment area protected by a berm around the cracking
unit. The catalytic converter on a pickup truck parked
nearby, its engine left running, ignited the fumes and the
entire apparatus exploded, propelling flame and toxic gases
thousands of feet into the atmosphere.

At the time, BP officials claimed no pollution or hazardous
chemicals were released into the atmosphere.

The site of many previous accidents, according to the Health
Department, BP's plant covers 1,200 acres, employs 2,000
workers, produces 3 percent of the U.S. gasoline supply and
processes 460,000 barrels of crude oil each day.

At the time, environmental authorities ranked the refinery
the 8th largest polluter in the U.S., estimating that it
spews about 5.1 million pounds of pollutants into the
atmosphere each year.

There were a long series of accidents leading up to the
explosion, including:

* a March, 2004, accident that killed two workers;

* a 2005 leak that caused no injuries, but several fires;

* and an August 2000 fire that erupted at the refinery.

In each case, OSHA and EPA officials levied stiff fines for
safety violations.

No comments:

Post a Comment