Concerns about air quality lingered Wednesday following a major early morning explosion at a chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas that shot a fireball into the sky.
The disaster at the TPC Group-owned facility roughly 94 miles west of Houston took place a week after the Trump administration rolled back safety rules meant to protect workers and people who live near chemical plants. In light of the timing, Catherine Fraser, Environment Texas's clean air associate, called Wednesday's explosion "a timely warning that state and federal officials need to do more to keep communities safe."
According to a statement from TPC Group, the incident occurred at 1:00am local time. The company said it "cannot speak to the cause of the incident or the extent of damage." The Port Neches Police Department, in a statement posted to Facebook, said, "There's extensive damage throughout the city."
"Throughout the morning more booms could be heard in the area as firefighters attempted to control the blaze," reported Beaumont's KBMT.
Area residents captured images and sounds of the explosion:
Environment Texas's Fraser, in her statement, pointed to the plant's history as cause for particular concern. "This facility has a track record of violating the Clean Air Act," she said, "with five other illegal emissions events just in 2019, emitting carcinogenic 1,3 butadiene and other chemicals, and a history of community complaints."
"According to the EPA, the TPC Plant has been in non-compliance 12 separate quarters over the last 3 years, and has received 7 formal enforcement actions over the last 5 years. According to the TCEQ, the chemical of most concern is butadiene," Fraser continued. "The TPC plant emitted 61,379 pounds of butadiene in 2018. Butadiene is a known human carcinogen."
Environmental justice expert Mustafa Santiago Ali weighed in on the explosion with a brief statement on Twitter. He noted that the Trump administration's move last week to finalize the weakening of the Chemical Disaster Rule and chided the president for "putting more people's lives in danger."