The March 27 blast that killed one person and injured 74 others at the Phillips Petroleum Co. K-Resin plant in Pasadena, Texas, is under investigation by the company and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is the second explosion at that facility in 10 months. The latest incident is likely to put a severe crimp in the already-disrupted supply chain for K-Resin styrene butadiene.
The explosion occurred about 1:30 p.m. local time, while 600 employees were at work at the chemical complex outside Houston, spokesman Jere Smith said by telephone from company headquarters in Bartlesville, Okla.
A cloud of black smoke and flames shot into the air, and residents miles away heard the blast.
According to Houston news reports, the blast might have occurred in a storage tank in the purification area. Phillips officials would not confirm that at press time.
Rodney Gott, 45, a maintenance supervisor at the plant, was killed in the explosion. He was a 19-year veteran of Phillips, Smith said.
Many employees escaped the accident unharmed, but 33 Phillips employees were treated at a local hospital for burns and blunt trauma. Four people remained hospitalized March 30, all in critical but stable condition suffering from severe burns, Smith said.
There also were 41 contractors on site who were admitted to the hospital for various injuries. One man was in critical condition with severe burns. Some 23 were treated and released for minor injuries, and seven were still in the hospital as of March 30, he added.
The Pasadena Fire Department was called to assist in extinguishing the fire, but Phillips' own fire crew was able to control the flames, Smith said.
A team of five OSHA investigators arrived at the plant March 27 to begin its probe, but it likely will take at least six months before a cause is determined, said Raymond Skinner, OSHA's area director of the Houston South office.
"I assure you we will find out what caused the fire and explosion. If they're not complying with standards, I guarantee you citations will be issued," he added.
Though Phillips expected to resume most production at the chemical complex last week, Smith was unsure how long the K-Resin facility would be down. The Pasadena complex also makes high density polyethylene and polypropylene resin.
Phillips has been unable to comply with K-Resin supply agreements with its customers since a June 23 blast that killed two contractors and injured four.
"The customers are not getting their contracted amounts," Smith said, but he was unsure of how much of the supply still is down.
Until investigators can get through the damage, Smith said, the company cannot predict how long the facility will be shut down or how badly supply will be affected. The plant has annual K-Resin capacity of 370 million pounds.
The March 27 incident was the third explosion at the Pasadena complex in 11 years, in addition to two flash fires in 1999 at that site.
A flash fire erupted in the PP plant in August, but no injuries were reported. OSHA fined Phillips $12,500 for several serious violations in connection with that incident.
Valves with a history of leaking hydrocarbon were the cause of an April 1999 fire in a rail car at the PE plant. Three people sustained injuries from that incident, which ultimately cost Phillips $166,000 in fines and eight OSHA citations.
Last summer's deadly explosion at the K-Resin plant was blamed on excessive pressure in a reactor. OSHA fined Phillips $204,000 for safety violations related to that incident.
An October 1989 explosion killed 23 people, injured 314 others and destroyed Phillips' HDPE plant. That plant eventually was rebuilt.
Gott had escaped that blast because he had switched positions for the day with another employee and went to work in another part of the plant. The employee who was working Gott's station died in the blast, according to Houston news reports.