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Toxic Chemical Leaks Affect Plants Statewide

The recent fatal accident at the DuPont chemical plant in LaPorte became the latest example of the effects of toxic chemical leaks. A report in the Texas Tribune shows that toxic chemical leaks have become problems for chemical facilities across the state. The report details several incidents of how plants have released dangerous chemicals such as methyl mercaptan, the chemical involved in the DuPont accident, into the atmosphere. Many of these leaks have forced workers to seek medical treatment and required nearby residents to evacuate their homes.

Reports of Toxic Chemical Leaks

According to data supplied by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the recent accident at the DuPont plant has been the only fatal incident involving methyl mercaptan in the last five years. The TCEQ data shows at least 19 other incidents that included methyl mercaptan. The report also shows dozens of other toxic chemical leaks, including at least ten instances of plants releasing 65 or more pounds of hydrogen cyanide into the air. One of these incidents prompted officials at a plant in Alvin to issue a “shelter in place” order for local residents.

Weak Enforcement of Toxic Chemical Leaks

One of the issues facing those who want to limit or eliminate toxic chemical leaks stems from the enforcement of the state’s environmental quality laws by TCEQ. The Tribune report shows that companies responsible for toxic chemical leaks face fines ranging from as little as $50 per day to as much as $25,000 per incident. Rock Owens, an environmental attorney for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, equated the fines to a “parking ticket” for the multi-billion-dollar chemical companies.

Health Effects of Toxic Chemical Leaks

The health effects of toxic chemical leaks can range from eye and throat irritation to carbon monoxide poisoning and death. Workers exposed to methyl mercaptan can experience eye irritation, skin rashes and breathing problems. Prolonged exposure to methyl mercaptan can also cause headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma, and death. Hydrogen cyanide, another substance reported in the article on toxic chemical leaks, can be much more deadly. Exposure to hydrogen cyanide can interfere with the normal use of oxygen by almost every organ in the body, often resulting in organ failure and death.

Toxic Chemical Leaks Include VOCs

The reports of toxic chemical leaks are not strictly limited to chemical processing plants. Many of the state’s petroleum and natural gas refineries have reported leaks of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs include chemicals such as benzene and toluene, both of which are known carcinogens. The TCEQ data included a January 2013 incident in which a Shell Oil refinery just south of Houston released nearly 20 tons of benzene into the air. The leak went on for more than two weeks before a plant worker noticed a faulty valve. TCEQ fined the company $200,000 and Shell contributed to an air-quality monitoring project.

Source: Texas Tribune

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