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How many explosions is too many explosions?

Unfortunately, we’re on track to find out.

It’s a scene that’s all too familiar to Houston residents.

Explosions, flames reaching into the sky, plumes of black smoke, calls to shelter in place, evacuations, injuries and deaths.

The explosion early Friday morning at a manufacturing plant was the latest deadly reminder of the potential danger posed by hazardous material facilities in the Houston area.

In 2019, there were at least five major chemical incidents in Southeast Texas.

[…]

The Houston area is home to more than 2,500 chemical facilities. A 2015 Houston Chronicle investigation found there was a major chemical incident in the greater Houston area every six weeks. The investigation found many facilities posed serious threats to the public but were unknown to most neighbors and largely unpoliced by government at all levels.

In November, the Trump administration rolled back a number of chemical safety regulations created in response to the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion that killed 15 and injured more than 200. A coalition of environmental groups sued to stop the rollback.

With those regulations off the books, companies will not have to complete third-party audits or a root-cause analysis after an incident. Companies also will not have to provide the public access to information about what type of chemicals are stored in these facilities either.

While the federal government weakened regulations, Harris County has taken a more aggressive stand with the petrochemical industry in recent months.  The county brought civil lawsuits and criminal charges to multiple chemical companies after incidents in 2019. This has led to a race to the courts as the state and the county fight over taking the lead in penalizing polluters.

I was awake and getting dressed when that explosion happened. It was loud enough that I thought it was something that happened in my house, and I’m a long way from the 4500 block of Gessner. All things considered, we’re damn lucky there weren’t more casualties.

The story goes on to list the other recent disasters, a rogues’ gallery that includes the likes of Intercontinental Terminal Company, KMCO, and the Exxon Mobil plant in Baytown. You can now add Watson Grinding & Manufacturing to that list. It’s just a matter of time before that list grows again.

And look, we all know the stakes of the 2020 election, but this list and the two parties’ responses to it are the stakes of every election. The Republicans roll back regulations that are in place to prevent and mitigate disasters, to hold the negligent companies responsible, and to inform the public of dangers in their midst. The Democrats support and enforce such regulations, and seek to make sure the people know about what’s out there. We know what we’re fighting for this year. Put “fewer giant explosions caused by under-regulated and uninspected facilities that contain all kinds of dangerous materials” high on the list of things we should be fighting for in 2022 and beyond.

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6 Comments

  1. David Fagan says:

    How about support your local fire fighters, because I know there’s one who has warned about the public safety situation in Houston, but who wants to listen?

    Or, is the only importance of this story is it’s use for an agenda? Public safety has no agenda.

    This will happen again, no matter who is in the White House.

    P.S. Houston, you are losing experienced Firefighters by the day, whether you want to listen or not.

  2. C.L. says:

    David, I’m all about supporting the work done by the HFD, but explain to this common taxpayer exactly how HFD (either under/fully/or over-staffed) could have prevented the Watkins explosion, or what HFD could do going forward (which apparently hasn’t been done by the ‘experienced’ HFD management) to lessen the chances…

    Where I live, there’s a glut of taco joints, followed closely by a glut of burger places, craft beer joints, artisan pizza, donuts joints, etc. As soon as one folds, another takes its place. Nature abhors a vacuum. If folks are fleeing HFD jobs for whatever reason, are you telling me the positions are not being filled, or that there not being filled by who you want them to be filled by ?

  3. Flypusher says:

    Are you willing to pay more taxes to “support your local firefighters”

    To the GOP mega-donors, explosions seem to be just a cost of doing business. I hope all those homeowners have insurance, because I doubt who ever owns that business will compensate them.

  4. As a resident of the Deer Park and Pasadena communities affected by the ITC fire, we are moving out of the state this summer to escape the ongoing chemical fires/ explosions/ incidents. These incidents will not stop until stronger policies are in place to protect residents and workers. I also believe if we stay, my children and/ or I have higher likely chance of being diagnosed with some form of cancer later in our lives. With Texas having the lowest health outcomes in the country, there is no benefit to stay here. While we are only one family seeking safety and refuge from chemical plants, as more incidents occur Houston area communities, that number will likely increase. Texas needs to protect its residents and workers.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Won’t be a fire department to deal with this situation if we aren’t careful

  6. […] here for the background. Other lawsuits are being filed as well; the more, the merrier, I say. Part of […]