A third chemical fire in the Houston area in less than three weeks has Texans and environmentalists questioning the safety of energy corporations and calling for strict reforms.
On Tuesday morning, an explosion at the KMCO chemical plant in Crosby, roughly 25 miles northeast of Houston, killed one worker and began a fire at the plant. Two other workers were injured in the blast.
Here's new video from #Air11. It shows the enormous smoke plume billowing from the #KMCO chemical plant in #Crosby, where you can see fire suppression efforts underway. #KHOU11 #HTownRush pic.twitter.com/dwenAoIDwP— Brandi Smith (@BrandiKHOU) April 2, 2019
The KMCO fire follows two days-long blazes at the Intercontinental Terminals, Inc. (ITC), petrochemical facility in Deer Park, about 20 miles south of Crosby and 20 miles due east of Houston.
"Much like the ITC facility, the KMCO facility wasn't prepared for a fire or explosion, they called other refineries to supply them with foam to extinguish the blaze," Sema Hernandez, a social justice, human rights, and political activist based in the Houston area, told Common Dreams in an interview.
In a statement, progressive organization Public Citizen said that spotty regulation standards under the state of Texas and President Donald Trump along with the profit motive in the energy industry combined to create disaster.
"The Texas state government has a record of lax enforcement, and the Trump administration is rolling back necessary protections for workers and people living and working in the shadow of chemical plants," the group said.
The KMCO plant has a poor record of regulatory behavior, reported The Houston Chronicle.
The facility is currently not compliant with the federal Clean Water Act. KMCO was in violation of the Clean Water Act for seven of the last 12 quarters. It violated the Clean Air Act three times in the last 12 quarters. Environmental Protection Agency data shows the facility also violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act on Feb. 22, 2018. The RCRA regulates how facilities handle hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.
In her interview with Common Dreams, Hernandez called for firm action against corporate polluters.
"Repeat offenders to the environment, our health and communities should be shut down, fined and prosecuted," said Hernandez. "We must learn and prevent disasters like these from happening again."
Public Citizen, in its statement, agreed.
"These sequential disasters highlight the dire need for more and better protections for these fence line communities," the group said. "Polluters should not get a free pass to pollute our communities and harm our neighbors."
Hernandez, who announced in September 2018 that she would challenge Republican Senator John Cornyn in 2020, added on social media that companies like KMCO should be held to account by their own standards.
"Since corporations are considered people, corporations who are repeat offenders to the environment, health and safety of workers and communities need to be shut down immediately," said Hernandez.