Dozens of Baytown, Texas residents attended a recent hearing related to the proposed expansion of the Exxon Olefins plant in Baytown. The hearing, organized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, lasted for hours as numerous residents came forward to speak and offer their concerns for how the plant and continuous expansions could have a greater impact on their communities, health, and quality of life.
At Kherkher Garcia, we have worked with numerous clients whose lives have been turned upside down due to chemical plant incidents, injuries, or community impact. Living near a chemical plant is hazardous, but is a necessity for many families who work at these facilities. Companies like Exxon should be diligent in safeguarding those in close proximity to their facilities.
In the article below, we will explore the hazards of living near a chemical plant, and explain the concerns that Baytown residents are expressing in regards to a potential expansion of the Exxon Olefins plant. If you live near a chemical plant and have questions about an injury or illness that may be related to chemical exposure, contact our petrochemical injury lawyers to learn more.
Exxon Olefins Plant Information
The ExxonMobil Baytown Olefins Plant is located in Baytown, Texas. It is one of the largest integrated olefins plants in the world, producing ethylene, propylene, butadiene, and other chemical products. The plant was built in 1960 and has been expanded several times since then.
In 2022, ExxonMobil applied for a permit to build a new ethylene unit at the plant, which would increase its production capacity by about 50%. The permit is currently under review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. There are environmental and community concerns about this increase given that in 2020, the Baytown Olefins Plant emitted over 5 million tons of greenhouse gases and over 1,000 tons of other air pollutants.
Baytown Resident Concerns Over Exxon Olefins Plant
In addition to concerns about general environmental pollution, Baytown residents have concerns about the Exxon Olefins plant affecting their lives more considerably. Residents who live near the Exxon plant continue to come forward with their stories of noise, pollution, illness, and other concerns. One resident who lives across the street from the plant was quoted in the Houston Chronicle saying the plant has,
“made it almost unbearable to live here because of the trembling, the flares. … It’s chaos in my house, we can’t sleep at night.”
Some of the primary concerns that residents have include:
The Exxon Olefins plant in Baytown has experienced several incidents and accidents in the past, including fires, explosions, and chemical releases. These incidents have led to evacuations, injuries, and environmental damage, causing residents to worry about their safety and wellbeing.
- July 31, 2019: A massive explosion and fire occurred in the polypropylene unit, injuring dozens of workers and sending plumes of smoke into the air. The fire burned for hours before being contained. Investigations cited equipment failure and maintenance issues as contributing factors.
- February 17, 2023: A worker suffered cardiac arrest at the plant and sadly passed away at the hospital. The cause of death is under investigation, but a chemical odor linked to the worker triggered a hazmat response at the hospital.
- Numerous other incidents have been reported, including leaks, equipment malfunctions, and flaring events, raising concerns about potential risks and ongoing issues.
The Olefins plant handles hazardous chemicals, including ethylene, propylene, and butadiene, which can pose health risks to nearby residents if released into the air or water. Concerns about chemical exposure and potential health effects may be heightened due to the proximity of residential areas to the plant.
- Flammability: Ethylene is highly flammable and can form explosive mixtures with air. In the presence of ignition sources, such as heat or sparks, ethylene can ignite and cause fires or explosions.
- Health Effects: Ethylene exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. Prolonged or high-level exposure may lead to symptoms such as dizziness, headache, nausea, and difficulty breathing. Chronic exposure to ethylene has been associated with respiratory disorders and may have adverse effects on the central nervous system.
- Environmental Impact: Ethylene is a greenhouse gas and a precursor to ozone formation in the atmosphere. Emissions of ethylene contribute to air pollution and can have environmental consequences, including smog formation and adverse effects on plant health.
- Flammability: Like ethylene, propylene is highly flammable and can form explosive mixtures in air. It poses fire and explosion hazards, particularly in the presence of heat, flames, or other ignition sources.
- Health Effects: Inhalation or skin contact with propylene vapor or liquid can cause irritation to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. Short-term exposure may lead to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and skin irritation. Long-term exposure to propylene has not been extensively studied, but it is generally considered to have low chronic toxicity.
- Environmental Impact: Propylene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog when released into the atmosphere. It can also react with other pollutants to form secondary organic aerosols, which can impact air quality and human health.
- Carcinogenicity: Butadiene is classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Long-term exposure to butadiene has been linked to an increased risk of cancers, particularly leukemia and lymphoma.
- Acute Toxicity: Inhalation or skin exposure to high levels of butadiene can cause symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Severe exposure can lead to central nervous system depression, respiratory failure, and death.
- Environmental Impact: Butadiene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) and a component of air pollution. It contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog, which can have adverse effects on air quality, human health, and the environment.
Baytown residents are concerned about the plant’s impact on air and water quality in the surrounding area. Emissions from the Olefins plant can contribute to air pollution, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter, which can affect respiratory health and overall environmental quality.
Chemical plants may discharge wastewater containing pollutants into nearby water bodies, contaminating local water sources. This pollution can harm aquatic ecosystems, disrupt the balance of aquatic life, and potentially contaminate drinking water supplies, leading to health risks for humans and wildlife.
Community Health and Safety
Living near a chemical plant can generate concerns about long-term health effects and safety risks for residents and their families. Some community-related concerns include:
- Chemical plants can generate significant noise levels from machinery, equipment, and transportation activities. Prolonged exposure to excessive noise can lead to hearing loss, sleep disturbances, stress, and other adverse health effects.
- Increased traffic from transportation of raw materials, finished products, and hazardous materials to and from the chemical plant can raise the risk of accidents, spills, and chemical exposures along transportation routes.
- Despite safety measures, industrial accidents such as equipment malfunctions, process upsets, or chemical reactions gone wrong can occur in chemical plants. These accidents can release hazardous substances into the environment, endangering the health and safety of nearby residents and workers.
- Living in proximity to a chemical plant can lead to psychosocial stress due to concerns about potential hazards, accidents, and long-term health effects. Fear and anxiety about safety can impact mental well-being and community cohesion.
Residents of Baytown have legitimate concerns about the Exxon Olefins plant due to its history of incidents, the nature of the chemicals handled, potential environmental impacts, and broader community health and safety issues. It will be important for residents and interested parties to stay up-to-date on the status of the potential expansion and any measures taken by Exxon to reduce the risk of hazardous impacts.
Do You Have Concerns about the Exxon Olefins Plant Expansion?
If you live in Baytown, or one of the many other communities in Texas in close proximity to a chemical plant, you likely have your own concerns about your safety and health. If you have questions about your legal rights when it comes to chemical exposure or other injuries, contact Kherkher Garcia for help.
Our petrochemical injury lawyers have worked with numerous clients affected by chemical plant illnesses and injuries. Our lawyers are knowledgeable about the laws and regulations that affect cases involving the oil, gas, and chemical industries. We know how to fight for your legal rights, even against companies like Exxon.
To get answers to your questions and learn more, contact us for a free consultation. You can call us at 713-333-1030, or complete the form on our website to get started.
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