HOUSTON (Reuters) - Harris County, Texas sued Exxon Mobil Corp on Thursday over pollution from a fire a day earlier at the company’s Baytown Olefins Plant, according to an attorney for the county.
The fire was being investigated by federal and state agencies. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) were at the scene to determine the cause of a blaze that raged for hours and raised a column of black smoke over the area.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is authorized to probe industrial chemical accidents, will not investigate the Baytown Olefins Plant fire, said spokeswoman Hillary Cohen in a statement.
The suit by Harris County, which includes Baytown, is the second lawsuit this year against the company involving fires at the plant.
The suit seeks court orders to prevent future fires at the Baytown plant, said Rock Owens, managing attorney for the environmental practice in the Harris County Attorney’s Office.
“It’s disappointing to me for a company to have these kinds of problems with the potential for some kind of disaster,” he said.
He said Harris County also is also asking the state court to order an investigation to determine the root cause of the fire in a propylene recovery unit. The county is seeking similar orders in connection with a lawsuit filed in March over a hydrotreater fire in the Baytown refinery.
Exxon spokesman Todd Spitler said the company is reviewing the lawsuit.
Exxon’s giant Baytown refining and petrochemical complex accounts for about 9% of total U.S. polypropylene, according to analysts at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. Polypropylene is a component in plastics.
In a statement on Thursday, Exxon spokeswoman Sarah Nordin said the fire has been extinguished and all employees affected by the fire were cleared to return to work. The company has not said what triggered the blaze.
Because of the fire, production at Exxon’s 560,500 barrel-per-day (bpd) Baytown refinery remains cut back, the company confirmed. It did not say by how much production was affected.
Jason Duncan, manager of the Baytown Olefins Plant, said on Wednesday afternoon that 37 workers were treated for minor injuries including burns. Later, Exxon said a total of 66 workers had been examined at a clinic for possible injuries but not all were treated.
Officials ordered Baytown residents to remain indoors on Wednesday with their air conditioning turned off for about four hours after an explosion set off the fire.
Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Susan Thomas, Tom Brown and David Gregorio