Six people were sent to the hospital for observation Tuesday evening when an operator at Crown Central Petroleum on Red Bluff opened a valve that contained a mixture of petroleum and hydrofluoric acid at approximately 5 p.m.
Bruce Hicks, spokesman for Crown, said the six were transported as a precaution because they might have inhaled the acid.

“The amount wasn’t large enough to trip the alarm,” Hicks said.

After the operator opened the valve, other workers saw steam coming from the area and manually pushed the alarm, Hicks said.

Hicks said one worker went to Bayshore Medical Center and was treated and released the same evening. The other five were sent to Memorial Hermann Hospital and stayed overnight for observation, but were released yesterday.

Hicks said all six cases were minor occurrences.

“Because we have a number of contractors, not all of them are regular employees and well trained in the plant,” Hicks said.

Although Tuesday evening’s release did not disturb local residents near Crown, environmental attorney Don Maierson said residents near the Pasadena facility have been disrupted by the plant’s activities since 1995.

Maierson filed a lawsuit in 1997, but said that residents involved in the suit had been experiencing problems since Crown’s labor dispute in the latter part of 1995.

Maierson represents 325 residents who live in the proximity of the facility.

“After they (Crown) locked out the union and brought in unknowledgeable people they started to notice the interruption,” Maierson said.

The lawsuit is a nuisance lawsuit filed because of continuous odors and loud noises. “These people can’t go outside – have gardens or barbecues – because of the odors,” Maierson said.

Maierson said the most recent explosion on Nov. 23 caused some of his clients to sustain cracks in their sheet rock and foundation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is administering an investigation to determine the cause of the most recent explosion, and is also investigating Tuesday evening’s incident.

Ray Skinner, area director of Houston’s South OSHA office, said they will complete their investigation within six months.

“Approximately 15 percent of the 325 suffered property damage,” Maierson said. Maierson said Crown’s recent announcement that the Pasadena facility is up for sale does not change his lawsuit against the company.

“If Crown closed tomorrow, my clients would still feel the need to be compensated for their inconvenience,” Maierson said. “If it closed it might close them off from future clients.”

“It’s (Crown) diminishing the value of the property. People are having problems selling their homes at a fair market value,” Maierson said. “People are scared to live out there in that neighborhood.”

Maierson said his clients live within a half mile from the facility.

Maierson said the initial lawsuit filed in 1997 involved Simpson Paper Co., but the conflict between the paper company and his clients has since been resolved. Maierson said his clients have not experienced any problems since the paper company has been sold.

Crown has been fined 22 times since 1998 by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.