Early Sunday afternoon a power outage at the TPC plant in southeast Houston put nearby residents like Josue Castillo on alert.
“It’s usually pretty good. It’s usually small that it dissipates after a little bit. But yesterday, uh-uh. I couldn’t believe how much smoke was coming. We thought something was wrong. We thought like fire was gonna happen or something, but it just smoking the whole day.”
It’s not known what caused the power outage. The plant deals with butadiene, which is used to manufacture rubber products as well as lubricants and fuel additives. Company spokesperson Sara Cronin says what was being released into the air were C4 hydrocarbons.
“It’s a combination, but the information that our environmental group will continue to do is assess the super hydrocarbons, and determine what components of that makes up the super hydrocarbons.”
Matthew Tejada: “These flares, that is their original intended purpose.”
Matthew Tejada is with Air Alliance Houston , a non-profit organization who’s mission is to reduce air pollution in the Houston area and to protect public health and environmental integrity. He says all these facilities have flares that react to an incident, like what happened Sunday, when a power outage caused the entire plant to shutdown. A flare releases product to minimize a serious incident from happening.
“This is something that folks especially along the Houston Ship Channel, they live with flares. They see these flares all the time and it’s a constant reminder of the fact, that we have some very dangerous facilities that people live right next to, that are present here in our community, and really we can never stop looking for ways to make sure these sorts of events happen less frequently and for shorter periods of time.”
He says Air Alliance strives to make sure companies that handle volatile chemicals have technology to improve the process and safety for employees and nearby residents.
“And to its credit, TPC has actually been a leader in that over the last few years. They’ve done a really great job in many cases, of taking advantage of new technology and really improving reducing the level of emissions that come out of that facility. But this flaring instance is just another example that we’re not there yet.”
The company has two week after the incident to issue a final report to local and state agencies that monitor air quality.