Fluoride Action Network

66 Are Injured By Toxic Leak At Texas Plant

Source: The New York Times | November 1st, 1987 | Associated Press
Location: United States, Texas
Industry type: Oil Refineries

TEXAS CITY, Tex., Oct. 31 – Sixty-six people were seriously injured and 3,000 residents fled their homes Friday after a leaking tank at an oil refinery sent up a cloud of toxic acid vapor.

Workers today pumped the leaking hydrofluoric acid through a two-inch hose into two connecting tank cars at the Marathon Petroleum Company refinery.

”I think it’s all over with but the cleanup,” said Jerry Purdon, the Police Chief of this city of 41,000 people on Galveston Bay. Chief Purdon noted that some residents had returned to their homes early despite warnings. ”A few people went back in there,” he said. ”Some people won’t ever leave.”

The leak began Friday when falling equipment sheared off a pipe leading to a tank of the strong acid, company officials said. The acid vaporized, forming a cloud over the city, according to a company spokesman, Ira Winsten.

Water Sprayed on Vapor Cloud

During the night, workers sprayed water over the vapor cloud to try to keep it from spreading, officials said.

Hydrofluoric acid, strong enough to etch glass, is used in the refinery as a catalyst to speed up separation of hydrocarbons into lighter products, such as benzene.

A 52-block area around the refinery had been evacuated and most people complied with the order, said George Stapleton, Texas City’s director of emergency preparedness. ”A few of them wouldn’t leave. We just told them, ‘Good luck.’ ”

”We realize we’ve evacuated a much larger area than we may have needed to, but we’d rather be safe,” Mayor Emmett Lowry said.

The fumes left residents with itchy, burning eyes and lungs, but doctors said they didn’t expect the residue to linger.

”They’re in good spirits and feeling well,” said Dr. J.W. Bryant of AMI-Danforth Hospital.

Dr. Bryant said that most of the people affected by the fumes were doing better today and he expected that all would be released by Monday. He said some patients still had some stinging and burning in the chest and eyes.

Officials said more than 200 people had been treated, including 137 who were treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital. Ten of the 66 seriously injured residents were released today, officials said.

Laaron Morris who was at Danforth with his mother for tests today, said he became sick Friday after going to the Marathon refinery to pick up his sister. He said he went to the hospital Friday night after becoming dizzy.

”My eyes started burning,” the 17-year-old youth said. ”It doesn’t hurt, it burns.”

Adrian Sherwood, 16, who was visiting a friend at the hospital, said he left his home about 14 blocks from the plant after he learned his house was in the evacuation area.

”I went back this morning. I guess I wasn’t really all that scared,” he said. ”It was pretty normal. Everybody was just sitting around.”

The Texas City High School homecoming football game Friday night was canceled and rescheduled for today in nearby La Marque.

Texas City was the site of the nation’s worst industrial disaster when the docked freighter Grandcamp, filled with ammonium nitrate fertilizer, exploded in April 1947, killing 576 people and injuring 5,000.