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Anniversary of Tragic Accidents in Texas Underscore Commitment to Chemical Plant Safety

While everyone is rightfully focused on today’s crisis and doing everything possible to mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we cannot afford to overlook other important challenges to our industry.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic fires that occurred at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) and KMCO facilities in the Houston Ship Channel. Both incidents resulted in fires that burned for days. The fires were finally brought under control thanks to the brave efforts of hundreds of emergency responders who worked tirelessly around the clock.

The impact of these two fires were felt well beyond the fence line of each of the facilities and the fires had a profound impact on the Ship Channel and beyond. A worker lost his life and several others were injured as a result of the incidents. The fires caused damage to the surrounding community and smoke from the fires created concern for the people living in the Houston area.  

The consequences of events like these bring hard lessons that must not be squandered or ignored. That is why under ACC’s Responsible Care® Process Safety Code members evaluate the circumstances of each incident and learn from their own experiences, as well as the experiences of other companies.

Our commitment to safety is embodied in the Responsible Care program, the chemical industry’s leading environmental, health, safety, and security performance initiative. Participation in Responsible Care, including third party audits and certification, is mandatory for membership in ACC and for ACC Partner companies, including chemical transporters, distributors, warehouses, logistics planners, and others along the supply chain.

We recently put that commitment into action by working with the Texas Chemical Council and the East Harris County Manufacturers Association to bring together a group of safety experts from our member companies to identify lessons from the ITC and KMCO accidents.

The group made several recommendations, including ways to enhance air monitoring capabilities, emergency response and the design and performance of above ground storage tanks. The group’s recommendations have yielded tangible results, including a $1 million dollar grant to Harris County to enhance the region’s air monitoring capabilities during an incident. The grant will allow the County to put more stationary and mobile air monitors in place and help officials contract with local experts to process air monitoring data quicker. The grant will help address some of the recommendations offered in the County’s gap analysis to address future incidents and was made possible thanks in part to the leadership of Harris County Commissioner, Adrian Garcia

This commitment to continually look for opportunities to enhance safety is also why we support the mission of the Chemical Safety Board and why ACC recently asked Congress and the White House to fill the vacancies at the Board. The Chemical Safety Board has the important job of independently investigating major incidents and making recommendations. Its findings are valuable, influential and a catalyst for safety improvements across the industry.

Our industry has demonstrated that we can improve the safety of our operations by learning from each other. Major incidents like the ones that occurred in Texas a year ago remind us that we can and must do better for the safety of our workers and our neighbors.

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