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ExxonMobile Plant Explosion in Texas Highlights Chemical Risks for Area Residents

The widespread impact of a recent chemical explosion at an ExxonMobile refinery in Baytown, Texas has renewed calls by consumer advocacy groups for more stringent regulations, which may have prevent injuries and health risks for area residents.

The ExxonMobil chemical plant caught on fire July 31, sending massive plumes of toxic smoke into the air near in the Houston area. During the blaze, officials called for a shelter-in-place order for local residents, and at least 37 individuals were treated for various chemical fire-related injuries.

The massive fire, and others like it, prompted Public Citizen to issue a statement pointing to the incident as further evidence of the need for stricter regulations of chemical processing plants throughout the U.S..

This is the second time this year the ExxonMobil plant caught fire, after another incident at the same Baytown facility occurred in March. Both fires released toxic pollutants into the air and the neighboring community for several days after the fire.

The plant processes light hydrocarbons, including propane and polypropylene. Both chemicals are used to make plastic and industrial products. Polypropylene has a high chemical resistance and is the second-most widely produced commodity plastic after polyethylene.

The cause of the explosion and fire are still under investigation. The shelter-in-place warning was for residents west of the facility and lasted for about six hours. Those injured were mostly treated for minor burns.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the Trump Administration, recently rolled back protections designed to keep communities safe from dangerous chemicals, especially after unexpected incidents like these.

“Today’s chemical explosion at the ExxonMobil plant in Baytown is just the latest in an endless list of hazardous incidents that Houston-area communities have been forced to endure,” wrote Adrian Shelly, Public Citizen’s Texas Office Director. “It’s time for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA to get serious about preventing these dangerous fires.”

Public Citizen urged local officials and the EPA to respond to serious accidents such as these and to take action to prevent chemical fires in the future. The consumer advocacy group is calling for stricter regulations to ensure the chemicals processed in these plants don’t harm the health of local residents.

The group is also calling for the EPA and local officials to keep the public informed of potential chemical dangers that plants like these may pose to the community.

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